TechnologyAbortion in the US: how smartphones can give away...

Abortion in the US: how smartphones can give away women seeking to end their pregnancy


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“Right now, and I mean right now, erase all digital traces of any menstrual record.”

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With this expression posted on Twitter, Gina Neffa professor of technology and society at the University of Oxford, sounded the alarm.

The educator expressed her concern about the data stored on the smart devices of millions of women in the US, after the Supreme Court in this country annulled the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, and 13 states prohibited the practice in an automatic.

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The tweet, which Neff shared just after the Supreme Court justices reported his sentence, has more than 200,000 likes and has been retweeted 54,000 times.

Their expressions raise several questions, which other experts also share.

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What kind of data can incriminate a person seeking an abortion? How do the authorities have access to them? And finally, what are tech companies doing to protect women?

a woman looks at a tablet with a dog by her side sitting on a bed

Menstrual Tracking Apps

The menstrual tracking apps Neff referenced are a tool commonly used by women to predict when is your next period and often for prevent pregnancies either try to conceive.

There is a fear that this data could be used against people seeking to end a pregnancy whether the authorities have access to the information.

Applications for these purposes that are highly used in various devices, such as Natural Cycleswhich is advertised as a tool to help contraception, have recognized the problem.

In your case, Natural Cycles ensures that all the data of its users is stored in a “secure” way.

A woman checks out a menstrual tracking app.

A woman checks out a menstrual tracking app.

However, on Monday the firm acknowledged to the BBC that it is currently working to “create a completely anonymous experience”.

“The goal is to make it so that no one, not even Natural Cycles, can identify the user,” he told this medium.

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What about the other tools?

Messaging apps like WhatsApp Y Signalwhere women might have conversations about sensitive topics, such as their plans to have an abortion, are generally favored by security experts and privacy advocates.

Being encrypted messages, not even the companies that run the apps can see the content of the conversations. Neither do they receive or store them.

only the sender and recipient devices they can decode conversations.

WhatsApp is the most popular app for sharing encrypted messages.

WhatsApp is the most popular app for sharing encrypted messages.

However, this is only useful if a cell phone, computer, or tablet is not confiscated and unlocked by the authorities.

Other tools, such as search engines, have raised concerns about the Supreme Court’s decision.

In fact, a month ago several members of the US Congress, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, signed a letter asking Google to collect less data about its users.

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They fear that details such as the location of people could be used to carry out abortion lawsuits.

Can a device be confiscated in the US?

In the US, police generally need a warrant to search an electronic device, such as a phone or laptop, just as they would to search a home.

Privacy protection is provided by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the US Constitution.

However, there are some exceptions. The Digital Rights Group Electronic Frontier Foundation says US police have the right to search without a warrant if they “have probable cause to believe there is incriminating evidence in the home or on an electronic device that is under immediate threat of destruction.”

Map states United States with laws in force to restrict or prohibit abortion.

Map states United States with laws in force to restrict or prohibit abortion.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which encompasses an individual’s right not to incriminate themselves, a person can refuse to unlock a device even if it is taken from them, but the breadth of this right is “fuzzy,” according to several lawyers.

“The courts have reached conflicting conclusions on whether the mandatory cracking of a password or biometric-protected device violates the Fifth Amendment,” the Congressional Research Service wrote in a 2020 report.

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The authorities, even if a device is not seized, can issue a subpoena to technology companies to turn over an individual’s data.

Giants like Google and Apple, for example, store their customer information in the cloud. Also data about their activities on the internet and, as the senators said, about the location of people.

Google has said that even when a user has deleted information such as their browsing history, some of this data may be retained “to meet legal or regulatory requirements”.

Map states United States with trigger laws, activation or triggers to restrict abortion.

Map states United States with trigger laws, activation or triggers to restrict abortion.

If these companies receive an official demand, they can challenge it, but the pressure to comply with the law falls on them.

In 2021, the New York Times reported that in the first six months of 2020, Apple disputed only 4% of customer account data requests. In general terms, it complied with 80 to 85% of the requests.

According to Google’s transparency report, the company provided “some data” in 82% of the cases in which authorities requested information in the first six months of 2021.

Of nearly 51,000 cases, 20,701 were citations and 25,077 search warrants.

What have the tech companies said?

So far, the tech companies have not commented on any changes to how they collect and manage customer data in light of the abortion ruling.

The BBC has requested this information.



What many US companies have said, including Facebook owner Meta, as well as Disney and Amazon, is that they will fund employees who have to travel to another state for medical care that is not available. where they are, including abortion.

There is some concern that people who live in a state where abortion is prohibited but travel abroad to have one may also be prosecuted when they return to their original destination.

the researcher Stephanie Hareauthor of the book “Technology is not neutral”, says that while the commitment of companies is “a welcome first step”, it is not enough.

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“That will only help a very small number of people, assuming some of them want to share this information. [que desean abortar] with your employer first,” he said.

“What we need to know is what these companies are going to do to limit the collection of data from all users and how they can prevent user data from being used against them after their health care decisions,” he said.

seat of the us supreme court

seat of the us supreme court

How can you protect your data?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation organization has published a privacy guide that includes these tips:

• Use a separate browser, phone number, and email address for abortion issues.

• Minimize location services on your devices

• Delete the data and make sure the deleted folder is also empty

When it comes to searching for abortion information online, Professor Alan Woodwardfrom the University of Surrey, believes that law enforcement is unlikely to start speculatively seeking this kind of personal data.

“They’re not likely to go after people who are thinking about having an abortion,” she said.

“But if they are gathering evidence after the eventIf someone has been arrested, that evidence could include browser history, emails and messages.”


Source: Elcomercio

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