Home Education Yes, phones can show when someone is having an abortion

Yes, phones can show when someone is having an abortion

Yes, phones can show when someone is having an abortion

The Supreme Court found out about the leak plans to overturn the landmark Rowe vs. Wade solution. When that happens, the so-called trigger laws already passed in 13 states – along with other laws that are on the way – immediately ban abortions in much of the country. And one of the ways courts can find people to prosecute is to use the data that our phones produce every day.

A smartphone can be a huge repository of personal information. Most people always carry it with them, automatically recording their daily activities through online searches, browsing, location data, payment history, phone records, chat programs, contact lists and calendars. “Your phone knows more about you than you do. Your phone has data that can show how many times a day you go to the bathroom, things that are incredibly intimate, “said Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit digital rights organization Struggle for the Future. “If, because of these draconian laws, major acts such as seeking or assisting with reproductive health become criminalized in a way that will allow law enforcement to obtain a valid warrant for your device, it could reveal incredibly confidential information – not just about that person. , but also about everyone they communicate with. ”

Even with Caviar intact, this type of digital footprint has already been used to prosecute those who wish to terminate a pregnancy. In 2017, a woman in Mississippi experienced a pregnancy at home. Grand Jury later accused her of second-degree murder, based in part on her online search history, which recorded what she was looking for as a miscarriage. (The charge against the woman was eventually dropped.)

Such information can be obtained directly from the phone. But for this, according to the law, the judge must issue a warrant. To do this, law enforcement officers must show that they have good reason to believe that the search is justified. This requirement can deter frivolous searches, but it can also be avoided with relative ease. In particular, privacy activists warn that law enforcement can circumvent the need for a warrant by receiving much of the same information from private companies. “The little-known treasure trove of information about Americans is kept by data brokers who sell their digital files on people to those who will pay their fees,” said Rihanna Pfefferkorn, a researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory. “Law enforcement agencies used data brokers to exclude the requirement of the Fourth Amendment order. They just buy information that would otherwise require a warrant. “

They can also access this data by presenting a subpoena to a technology company, which is easier to obtain than a warrant because it requires only “reasonable suspicion” of the need for a search, Greer explains, not the highest level of probable cause. “We also saw law enforcement in the last issue [subpoenas for] incredibly wide requests, ”Greer says. “For example, a request for a search engine to pass on the IP addresses of everyone who searched for a certain term, or a request for a cellular company to pass on what is considered” geoprotection data “. [which reveal] all mobile phones that were in a certain area at a certain time. “

By receiving this data en masse – through a purchase or a subpoena – the agency can deal with a large number of people at once. A geozone and other location data can easily identify who has visited an abortion clinic. Greer’s concern is not only theoretical: ViceOnline technology news publication Motherboard recently reported two cases of location data brokers sales or freely share information on people who visited abortion clinics, including where they traveled before and after these visits. Although both companies claimed so stopped selling or exchange this information after the news coverage, other data brokers are free to continue this type of tracking.

Such information may be even more telling in conjunction with health data. For this reason, some proponents of privacy beware of period tracking applicationswhich many use to keep abreast of the menstrual cycle and track their fertility. If the software “tracks your menstrual period and your menstrual periods go regularly, then your menstrual period is late, [the app] can definitely determine a pregnancy before anyone finds out about it, ”says Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. In fact, government officials have already outlined periods to determine a person’s pregnancy status. For example, in 2019, a Missouri official said his office had created a spreadsheet track monthly patients who visited the state’s only paternity planning institution. In this case, the government did not receive information from the program, but the incident shows the authorities’ interest in such data.

Although policies vary by application, experts say that companies that produce menstrual cycle programs are generally not required to store this data privately. “If it’s not part of the health care system, I think most of them are [apps] no, I don’t think they will [privacy] requirement, ”says Grossman. Although these data relate to personal health, they are not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996 (HIPAA), which protects health information from being disseminated without patient consent. “Everyone should understand that HIPAA, the federal health privacy law, is not the huge magic shield that many people seem to believe it is,” warns Pfeferkorn. “HIPAA is actually quite limited in terms of which entities it applies to, and your period tracking program is not one of them. In addition, HIPAA has exceptions for law enforcement and litigation. Therefore, even if an organization (such as an abortion clinic) falls under the HIPAA, this law does not provide absolute protection against having your reproductive health records disclosed to the police. ”

Ultimately, the vulnerability of users ’phone data depends on the choice of software companies and the programs they use. For example, when asked to comment, a representative of the Clue Tracking Program responded: “Keeping the confidential data of Clue users safe is fundamental to our mission of empowerment, as well as to our business model, because it trusts our community. . In addition, as a European company, Clue is required under European law ( General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR) apply special protection measures to the reproductive health data of our users. We will not disclose it. ” However, in the U.S., many companies do not comply with GDPR requirements, and many use their freedom to sell data to third parties. Experts recommend that users read the privacy policy and terms of service of any application before entrusting it with their data.

“This shows that the business model of the entire technology industry, which collects as much data as possible, in the hope that it can be turned into a profit, has created this broad surface of attack to monitor and disperse basic human rights,” Greer said. . “And when we start thinking about how activities that are completely legal now could be criminalized in the near future, it reveals how even very seemingly ordinary or harmless data collection or storage can put people at risk.” Lawmakers have introduced privacy laws, for example The Fourth Amendment to the Act is not for salethat would have prevented law enforcement from circumventing the need for warrants by buying information from data brokers. But it did not go into law.

Instead of relying on privacy, some supporters believe it would be more effective to put pressure on the company directly. “I think our best option for making systemic changes now is to encourage the companies that collect this data to just stop collecting it and stop sharing it, and to make plans for what will happen if the government demands it,” says Eva Halperin. , director of the cybersecurity nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which promotes digital rights.

Individuals can also take steps to maintain confidentiality now, rather than expect action from either the government or the technology industry. As a first line of defense, Greer recommends securely blocking accounts: protecting phones and computers with strong passwords, using password managers for other programs, and enabling two-factor authentication. “These three steps will protect you from most law enforcement attacks,” Greer says. For those concerned about law enforcement, published organizations such as the Digital Defense Fund safety guide about how to further hide your information. Potential steps include the use of encrypted privacy chat-oriented browsing applications such as Tor or Brave, and VPNs to verify communications and online activity. Also, disabling location tracking or leaving your phone at home while visiting a clinic can protect your location information.

Such measures may now seem unnecessary, but Halperin warns that without protection Rowe vs. Wade, the fear that our most personal information may be used against us is justified. “I have spent more than ten years working with journalists and activists, people from vulnerable groups around the world and especially in authoritarian regimes,” she said. “And the most important lessons I have learned from this work are that when rights are reduced, it happens very quickly. And when that happens, you should already have all your privacy and security plans in place, because if you make those changes after your rights have been taken away, it’s too late. ”

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