US tech industry fears handing over abortion data to state government after Roe vs Wade Trail ruling

The tech industry in the United States is bracing for the inconvenient possibility of having to hand pregnancy-related data to law enforcement, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to overturn the Roe vs Wade precedent that has set decades ago. guarantee a woman guarantees. constitutional right to abortion.

As state laws restricting abortion come into effect after the ruling, tech trade representatives told Reuters they fear police will obtain warrants for customers’ search history, geolocation and other information pointing to plans to terminate a pregnancy. Prosecutors could also access it through a subpoena.

The concern reflects how the data-gathering practices of companies like Alphabet’s Google, parent Facebook Meta Platforms and Amazon have the potential to charge abortion seekers with state laws that many in Silicon Valley oppose.

“It is very likely that requests will be made to those tech companies for information about search history and websites visited,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a technology associate at the Ford Foundation.

Google declined to comment. Representatives from Amazon and Meta did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Technology has long collected — and sometimes disclosed — sensitive pregnancy-related information about consumers. In 2015, opponents of abortion targeted “Maternity Care” and “You Have Choices” ads at individuals entering reproductive health clinics, using so-called geofencing technology to identify smartphones in the area.

More recently, Mississippi prosecutors charged a mother with second-degree murder after her smartphone showed she had sought abortion medication in her third trimester, local media reported. Conti-Cook said, “I can’t even imagine how much information my phone has about my life.”

While suspects may unknowingly hand over their phones and volunteer information used to prosecute them, investigators may turn to tech companies for lack of strong leads or evidence. In United States vs Chatrie, for example, the police received a warrant) for Google location data that led them to Okello Chatrie in a 2019 bank robbery investigation.

For example, Amazon complied at least in part with 75 percent of search warrants, subpoenas and other court orders demanding data on U.S. customers, the company announced for the three years ending June 2020. It fully complied with 38 percent. Amazon has said it must comply with “valid and binding injunctions”, but its aim is to provide “the minimum” required by law.

Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said on Twitter on Friday, “The difference between now and the last time abortion was illegal in the United States is that we live in an era of unprecedented digital surveillance.”

© Thomson Reuters 2022