When Rowe doubts, some are afraid of technical monitoring of the pregnancy – Morning Call

PHILADELPHIA – When Chandler Jones realized she was pregnant in her junior college, she turned to a reliable source for information and advice.

Her cell phone.

“I couldn’t imagine it until the Internet tried to figure it out,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who graduated from Baltimore University’s law school on Tuesday. “I didn’t know if they were having abortions in hospitals. I knew that planned parenting did abortions, but there were none near me. So I kind of just googled. ”

But with every search, Jones is secretly monitored – phone programs and browsers that track us when we click, capturing even the most confidential health data.

Internet searches. Period applications. Fitness trackers. Advice hotlines. GPS. Often obscure companies that collect our health history and geolocation may know more about us than we do.

Now the information is mainly used to sell things such as baby products designed for pregnant women. But in the world after Rowe – if the Supreme Court overturns a 1973 ruling that legalized abortion, according to a draft opinion, it could be in the coming weeks – data will become more valuable and women more vulnerable.

Privacy experts fear the pregnancy could be tracked and the data will be passed on to police or sold to individuals.

“The value of these tools for law enforcement is how they can really look into the soul,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a lawyer and researcher at the Ford Foundation. “It gives (them) mental chatter in our heads.”

The digital footprint only becomes clearer when we leave home, as location programs, security cameras, license plate readers, and face recognition software track our movements. The development of these technological tools is far ahead of the laws and regulations that could govern them.

And it’s not just women who need to worry. The same tactics used to monitor pregnancies could be used by life insurance companies to set premiums, banks to approve loans and employers to weigh hiring decisions, experts say.

Or it can – and sometimes does – send women who are having a miscarriage, hilarious advertisements for the birthday of their unborn child.

All of this is possible because HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, protects medical files in your doctor’s office, but not information collected about you by third-party programs and technology companies. HIPAA also does not cover health histories collected by non-medical “crisis pregnancy centers” run by anti-abortion groups. This means that information can be shared or sold to almost anyone.

Jones contacted one such institution at the beginning of a Google search before finding out they didn’t offer abortions.

“The dangers of unhindered access to Americans’ personal data have never been more obvious. An online birth control study, updating a menstrual tracking app or bringing a phone to a doctor’s office can be used to track and prosecute women across the U.S., ”Senator Ron Wyden, U.S., said last week.

For many reasons, both political and philosophical, US data privacy laws lag far behind those passed in Europe in 2018.

By this month, everyone could purchase a weekly treasure trove of customer data on more than 600 Planned Parenthood sites nationwide for just $ 160, according to a recent Vice investigation that one data broker removed family planning centers from client “template” data The files included the approximate addresses of patients (up to the census block, obtained from where their mobile phones “sleep” at night), income groups, time spent in the clinic, and the most important places where people stopped before and after visits.

Although the data did not identify patients by name, experts say they can often be put together or stripped of anonymity by searching a little.

In Arkansas, a new law requires women who wish to have an abortion to first call the state hotline and learn about alternatives to abortion. The operation of the hotline, which will begin next year, will cost the state nearly $ 5 million a year. Critics fear it will be another way to track pregnant women by name or through an identification number. Other states are considering similar legislation.

Widespread surveillance capabilities alert experts in particular who fear what will happen if Rowe v. Wade is repealed. The Supreme Court is expected to give its opinion by early July.

“Many people where abortion is criminalized – because they have nowhere to go – are going to go online, and every step they take (can) … be monitored,” Conti-Cook said.

Colored women like Jones, along with poor women and immigrants, can face the most terrible consequences if Rowe falls, as they usually have less energy and money to cover their tracks. They also tend to have more abortions in proportion, perhaps because they have less access to health care, birth control and, in conservative states, schools with good sex education programs.

The leaked project suggests the Supreme Court may be willing to allow states to ban or severely restrict abortion through civil or criminal penalties. More than half are willing to do it. The enemies of abortion mostly promised not to punish women themselves, but targeted their providers or people who help them access services.

“Punishments are for the doctor, not the woman,” Oklahoma State Republican Jim Olsen said last month of a new law that makes abortion a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

But proponents of abortion say it remains to be seen.

“When abortion is criminalized, the outcome of the pregnancy is investigated,” said Tara Murta, director of communications for the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, who recently co-authored a report on digital surveillance of abortion.

She wonders how the inspection will end. Prosecutors have already targeted women who use drugs during pregnancy, a question raised by Judge Clarence Thomas during a Supreme Court hearing in a case in December.

“Any adverse pregnancy outcome can turn a pregnant person into a suspect,” Murta said.

Several states are beginning to retreat, imposing restrictions on technical tools as the struggle for consumer privacy intensifies.

Massachusetts Attorney General Mora Healy through a legal settlement stopped an advertising campaign from Boston from advertising smartphones against abortions to women in local clinics that offer abortion services, considering it harassment. The firm even suggested using the same “geoprotection” tactics to send anti-abortion messages to high school students.

In Michigan, voters amended the state’s constitution to prohibit police from conducting searches on someone’s data without a warrant. And in California, where Silicon Valley is located, voters have passed a broad digital privacy law that allows people to see their data profiles and ask them to delete them. The law came into force in 2020.

Fears are growing and have forced Apple, Google and other technology giants to start taking steps to curb consumer data sales. This includes last year’s launch of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature, which allows iPhone and iPad users to block apps from tracking them.

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Abortion advocates, meanwhile, are urging women in conservative states to leave their cell phones, smartwatches and other wearable devices at home when they seek reproductive health care, or at least turn off location services. They should also carefully study the privacy policies of menstrual trackers and other health programs they use.

“There are things people can do that can help mitigate their risk. Most people won’t do it because they don’t know about it or it’s inconvenient, ”said Nathan Fried Wessler, ACLU’s deputy director of speech, privacy and technology. “Very, very few people who know how to do everything.”

Digital privacy was the last thing Jones thought of when she got pregnant. She was in crisis. She and her partner had ambitious career goals. After several days of searching, she found an abortion record in nearby Delaware. Fortunately, he had a car.

“When I was going through this, it was just a survival mode,” said Jones, who participated in Saturday’s march in downtown Baltimore in support of abortion rights.

She also said she grew up in the age of the Internet, in a world where “all my information is constantly being sold”.

But this month, news of the Supreme Court’s draft leak sparked discussions at her law school about confidentiality, including digital privacy in the big data era.

“Literally, because I have a cell phone in my pocket, when I go to CVS, they know I went to CVS,” the future lawyer said. “I think the right to privacy is such a deeper problem in America (and one) that is constantly being violated.”

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