How your phone could be used in the criminalization of abortion
America today is a much different place than it was in the pre-Roe era: Due to the ubiquity of the internet and mobile technology, people today share vast amounts of data about themselves- themselves – whether they are aware of it or not – opening the door to significant surveillance. The possibility of a complex patchwork of state laws following the rollback of Roe v. Wade raises a host of new questions about the everyday technology Americans use to make health decisions and how it could be used to enforce those laws, and could create confusion about what online behavior is allowed or not. .
For example, in states that make it a crime to help an abortion seeker, data from women’s period or pregnancy tracking apps could end up being cited as evidence against the person who helped them. , said Danielle Citron, professor of law at the University. of Virginia and author of the forthcoming book “The Fight for Privacy”. “Let’s say you had your period, stopped it, then got your period again in a short time,” Citron said. “His [potential] evidence of your own criminality, or the criminality of your doctor.”
Groups promoting digital rights and reproductive freedoms are now warning residents of states that criminalize access to abortion to protect their digital footprint when seeking abortion information and resources online and sharing advice on the way to do it.
“We live in a much more policed culture than in 1972 and before, so in a future where abortion rights are limited or there is no federal law, people are at risk of exercising bodily autonomy. “said Elisabeth Smith, director of state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The consequences of these decisions are likely to hit black, brown and Indigenous people of color the hardest.”
“Most people go straight to our ‘Find Abortion Pills’ directory that we have,” Wells told CNN Business. “Disproportionately, these people come from states that have laws in place that restrict access.”
Various online behaviors could be part of investigations and legal proceedings in states where assisting access to abortion is criminalized, including internet searches, location history, call logs and Text messages, emails and financial records, according to Cynthia Conti-Cook, a civil rights expert. lawyer and technology researcher at the Ford Foundation. Any part of a person’s digital fingerprint is fair game once a device is in the possession of law enforcement, she said.
“As long as abortion and abortion-seeking conduct is criminalized, all of this information can be totally fair game,” Conti-Cook told CNN Business. She added that law enforcement has the forensic tools to see virtually everything a person does on their device, but only once the device is in their possession. Unless surrendered voluntarily, a phone and all of its data is generally not accessible without a search warrant.
Various state-by-state laws governing abortion care raise new questions about the role an abortion seeker’s use of the Internet might play. “In a state like Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, if someone is ordering pills online, they’re doing it outside the laws of that state,” Smith said. “Because they’ve banned telemedicine and more states are passing laws prohibiting the possession of abortion drugs, there’s a risk of criminalization when people don’t follow their state’s laws.”
In anticipation of more restrictive laws, advocacy groups are promoting education about digital privacy and sharing information about how to safely seek reproductive health services online.
When researching abortion information, the guide also recommends using end-to-end encrypted messaging apps like Signal or WhatsApp to keep calls and messages private (these apps also offer auto-delete features). timed for messages). Unlike a telephone company with access to SMS text messages, developers of such apps cannot access the content of encrypted messages and therefore could not be compelled by a court to share them.
Other privacy measures that people seeking abortion information can take to protect their Internet browsing include using the anonymous browsing service Tor or virtual private networks (VPNs) and using search windows. incognito, according to the Digital Defense Fund. While hiding digital history completely is nearly impossible, experts say such methods can help minimize risk and make it difficult for law enforcement to capture data.
CNN’s Brian Fung contributed to this report.