How your period app data could be used against you in post Roe v Wade America

How your period app data could be used against you in post Roe v Wade America

How your period app data could be used against you in post Roe v Wade America

tThe end of federal protections for abortion access could lead to laws in more than a dozen states criminalizing abortion care, with long prison terms and heavy fines for health care providers and others who “help and encourage” abortion, in some cases.

An impending U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether or not to reverse the 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade can have far-reaching implications, including how law enforcement agencies use surveillance and sensitive personal data to identify and prosecute criminal anti-abortion cases.

Vice President Kamala Harris said she fears states seeking to criminalize abortion care could subpoena patients’ personal data, including period-tracking apps and abortion clinic search results.

In a meeting with legal experts on threats to privacy protections in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, the vice president said she fears the “vulnerability of women who use menstrual tracking apps, those who use a search engine to search for certain locations or certain aid… and how vulnerable those searches will be to bad actors trying to trace their history, let alone government forces who might be interested in investigating that for whatever purpose.

Legislation in Congress would prevent intimate data collected on smartphones — including, more broadly, location data — from getting into the hands of the companies that collect it and the companies that want to buy it.

A bill from California Congresswoman Sara Jacobs would strictly limit the sexual health data companies can collect, store and disclose, while a sweeping proposal from Senator Elizabeth Warren would ban data brokers from selling or transferring location and health data.

Last month, Senator Warren and a group of 13 senators criticized two data brokers for collecting and selling phone-based location data of people traveling to abortion clinics.

One such firm,, provided access to massive amounts of data on its website, showing the approximate approximate locations of people who have attended Planned Parenthood clinics. The company’s cache and related data were only removed after an investigation by Motherboard.

Another location data company, SafeGraph, also blocked the sale of its data after a message from Motherboard revealed that the company was selling aggregated location data from people who visited Planned Parenthood facilities.

Anti-abortion activists have already relied on surveillance methods to track patients and caregivers, using methods such as license plate registration and cameras outside of clinics. At least one state has also reviewed sensitive patient information collected in clinics; In 2019, Missouri’s top health official testified that the state mined detailed personal information from Planned Parenthood — including assessing patients’ menstrual cycles, medical identification numbers, dates of procedures and the gestational age of fetuses. Patient names were not included.

Legal analysts and abortion rights advocates have warned that the availability of location data collected from smartphones could be misused by anti-abortion activists and law enforcement officers.

The group of senators warned that such data could be used to pursue so-called “bodies” in states that have effectively replaced citizens to sue abortion providers, with out-of-pocket judgments awarding plaintiffs thousands of dollars plus legal fees.

“These and other practices targeting women seeking necessary health care will almost certainly escalate if Roe v Wade be stripped and abortion is immediately criminalized in states across the country,” the senators wrote to data firms. “Under these circumstances, [your company’s] The decision to sell data that would allow any buying customer to locate the location of people seeking abortion services was simply unscrupulous, endangering the safety and security of women everywhere.”

US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Patty Murray speak at a news conference on June 15 about legislation protecting abortion rights.


A group of Democratic senators also wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, urging the company “to stop collecting and storing customer location data unnecessarily, to prevent that information from being used by right-wing prosecutors to identify people.” who have had an abortion.”

Law enforcement has routinely relied on location data for criminal investigations; in 2020, the company received nearly 12,000 requests from law enforcement seeking so-called “geofence” data that reveals location data at some point, according to reports published by Google and reviewed by senators.

Google’s decision to retain location data “creates a new digital divide in which privacy and security are a luxury,” the senators said, pointing to Apple’s data limitations. “Americans who can afford an iPhone have more privacy from government surveillance of their movements than the tens of millions of Americans who use Android devices.”

An investigation by Reveal of The Center for Investigative Reporting and The Markup also found that Facebook collected data from people who visit the websites of so-called crisis maternity centers, non-medical facilities designed to discourage those seeking abortions.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, has banned websites and apps that use the company’s advertising tools to transmit Facebook user data about “sexual and reproductive health,” but the investigation found Facebook’s code was discovered on the websites of hundreds of anti -abortion clinics.

Several prosecutors have said: the independent that they will not prosecute people who seek abortion care or who offer abortions should state laws criminalizing care go into effect without roelet alone issue subpoenas for sensitive data in anti-abortion cases.

“There’s no point in wasting our time and energy thinking about how someone could do that,” Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza told reporters. The independent.

“But I think those fears and concerns are incredibly legitimate,” he said. “I think the implications for law enforcement, by using their authority in that way, would deeply undermine core democratic principles.”

Senator Warren and a group of senators proposed sweeping legislation that would prohibit companies from selling or transferring location and health data, warning that the sale of such data “poses serious risks to Americans everywhere.”

“With this extremist Supreme Court about to overthrow” Roe v Wade and states seeking to criminalize essential health care, it is more important than ever for Congress to protect sensitive consumer data,” she said in a statement on June 15.

The Health and Location Protection Act would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general, as well as people affected by the sale of such data, who would be empowered to sue companies that have broken the law.

“Health and location data is incredibly sensitive and can be used for all kinds of harm, from profiling and exploiting consumers to spying on citizens without justification to committing stalking and violence,” said Justin Sherman, a researcher with the Data Brokerage Project. at Duke. Sanford School of Public Policy of the university.

US Representative Sara Jacobs’ My Body My Data Act would strictly limit what sexual health data can be “collected, stored, used or disclosed” to only what is necessary to use the product.

It also aims to protect such data that is currently not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law that protects against disclosing sensitive patient information without patient consent.

“Since the Supreme Court leak, I’ve heard of so many people panicking that their personal reproductive health data is falling into the wrong hands,” the congressman said in a statement.

The bill would “protect that information, protect our privacy, and affirm our rights to make our own decisions about our bodies,” she said. “As a young woman, reproductive health care is my health care. And like tens of millions of Americans, I’ve used period-tracking apps to help manage my reproductive health. It is unreasonable that information could be turned over to the government or sold to the highest bidder and used against us.”