Roe draft raises concerns data could be used to identify abortion seekers, providers

Article by Chris Mills Rodrigo: “Concerns that data gathered from peoples’ interactions with their digital devices could potentially be used to identify individuals seeking or performing abortions have come into the spotlight with the news that pregnancy termination services could soon be severely restricted or banned in much of the United States.

Following the leak of a draft majority opinion indicating that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established the federal right to abortion, privacy advocates are raising alarms about the ways law enforcement officials or anti-abortion activists could make such identifications using data available on the open market, obtained from companies or extracted from devices.

“The dangers of unfettered access to Americans’ personal information have never been more obvious. Researching birth control online, updating a period-tracking app or bringing a phone to the doctor’s office could be used to track and prosecute women across the U.S.,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement to The Hill. 

Data from web searches, smartphone location pings and online purchases can all be easily obtained with little to no safeguards.

“Almost everything that you do … data can be captured about it and can be fed into a larger model that can help somebody or some entity infer whether or not you may be pregnant and whether or not you may be someone who’s planning to have an abortion or has had one,” Nathalie Maréchal, senior policy manager at Ranking Digital Rights, explained. 

There are three primary ways that data could travel from individuals’ devices to law enforcement or other groups, according to experts who spoke with The Hill.

The first is via third party data brokers, which make up a shadowy multibillion dollar industry dedicated to collecting, aggregating and selling location data harvested from individuals’ mobile phones that has provided unprecedented access to the daily movements of Americans for advertisers, or virtually anyone willing to pay…(More)”.