After the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade case on Friday, calls mounted for tech companies to take a stand on the use of online dates to frame people seeking or providing abortion services.
Abortion and civil rights advocates have warned that there are few federal regulations about what information is collected and stored by tech companies, making it easier for law enforcement to access incriminating on-site data, Internet searches and communication histories.
Such data has already been used to prosecute people for miscarriages and abortions in states with strict abortion laws, including a case in which a woman’s online search for abortion pills was brought against her in court. That type of legal response could now spread further, said Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer of the advocacy Center for Countering Digital Hate.
“These companies need to think very long and hard about how to arm their platforms to criminalize people who want access to abortion medicine and make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Despite those growing calls, as of Friday afternoon, no major tech company had made public statements about how they would handle such data and respond to law enforcement requests in the future.
Facebook and WhatsApp parent company Meta did not respond to a request for comment. Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment. Google and Apple have not responded to requests for comment.
Smaller companies are also being approached with questions about their data practices as frantic calls Delete period tracking apps went viral after the Supreme Court decision. Some of these companies have taken a public stand in contrast to the tech giants.
“In this tense moment, we hear the anger and fear emanating from our US community,” menstrual tracking app Clue said in a statement. “We remain committed to protecting your reproductive health information.”
Digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has advised companies in the tech world to preemptively prepare for a future in which they will be served with subpoenas and warrants requesting user data to prosecute abortion seekers and providers .
It recommends companies to allow pseudonymous or anonymous access, stop behavioral tracking and keep as little data as possible. It also advocated end-to-end encryption by default and refrained from collecting location information.
“The best thing tech companies can do is not have that data when people come knocking through subpoenas or other legal action,” said Shirin Mori, privacy expert at EFF.
Experts also encourage people seeking abortions to use heightened data security practices, including encrypted communications and turning off location tracking. The Roe decision has exposed a longstanding privacy crisis affecting users of the most commonly used tech services, Ahmed said.
“This shows very clearly how the cost of these free services is included in the data we are willingly giving them that can now be used against us,” he said.
The threat of Roe’s ouster since the decision was first leaked earlier this year has fueled calls for federal privacy laws. Last week, lawmakers including Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation that would “prevent data brokers from selling or transferring location and health data.”
“Data brokers profit from the location data of millions of people and are putting Americans everywhere at serious risk by selling their most private information,” Warren said in a statement at the time. “With this extremist Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v Wade and states looking to criminalize essential healthcare, it’s more important than ever for Congress to protect consumers’ sensitive information.”
Johana Bhuiyan contributed to the coverage.