Texas

As Rowe doubts, some fear technical monitoring of the pregnancy

PHILADELPHIA – When Chandler Jones found out she was pregnant during her junior year in college, she turned to a trusted source for information and advice.

Her cell phone.

“I couldn’t imagine before the Internet tried to find my way around this,” said Jones, 26, who graduated from the University of Baltimore’s School of Law on Tuesday. “I didn’t know if hospitals had abortions. I knew Planned Parenthood was having abortions, but there were none near me. So I just did a Google search. ”

But with each search, Jones was secretly monitored by phone apps and browsers that track us as we click, capturing even our most sensitive health data.

Online searches. Period applications. Fitness trackers. Phones for advice. GPS. Often, unknown companies collecting our health history and geolocation data may know more about us than we do.

So far, the information is used primarily to sell us things like baby products aimed at pregnant women. But in the post-Rowe world – if the Supreme Court overturns the 1973 ruling that legalizes abortion, as the draft opinion suggests, it could happen in the coming weeks – data will become more valuable and women more vulnerable.

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Privacy experts fear that pregnancies may be monitored and data shared with police or sold to vigilantes.

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

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HIPAA, HOT LINES, HEALTH HISTORY

The digital trail only becomes clearer when we leave home, as location apps, security cameras, license plate readers and facial 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 be concerned. The same tactics used to monitor pregnancy could be used by life insurance companies to set premiums, banks to approve loans and employers to assess hiring decisions, experts said.

Or it can – and sometimes does – send merry advertisements to women who have had a miscarriage on their future child’s birthday.

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

Jones contacted one such establishment early in his Google search before realizing that they did not offer abortions.

“The dangers of unhindered access to Americans’ personal data have never been clearer. “Studying online birth control, updating a cycle tracking app or carrying a phone to the doctor’s office can be used to track and harass women in the United States,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, last week.

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

Until this month, anyone could purchase multiple weekly customer data on more than 600 planned parenting sites across the country for just $ 160, according to a recent Vice investigation that prompted a data broker to remove family planning centers from the template client. data it sells. The files include approximate patient addresses (up to the counting unit extracted from the place where their mobile phones “sleep” at night), income groups, time spent at the clinic, and the best places where people stop before and after your visits.

Although the data does not identify patients by name, experts say they can often be collected or de-anonymized with a little research.

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In Arkansas, a new law will require women seeking an abortion to call the U.S. hotline first and hear about abortion alternatives. The hotline, which is due to debut 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 ID. Other states are considering similar legislation.

Widespread surveillance capabilities are alerting privacy experts, who fear what will happen if Rowe v. Wade is overturned. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its opinion by early July.

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

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PUNISH WOMEN, DOCTORS OR FRIENDS?

Black women like Jones, along with poor women and immigrants, can face the worst consequences if Rowe falls, as they usually have less power 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.

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The expired draft suggests that the Supreme Court may be willing to allow states to ban or severely restrict abortion through civil or criminal sanctions. More than half are ready to do so. The enemies of abortion have largely promised not to punish women themselves, but instead target their providers or people who help them access services.

“The punishment is for the doctor, not the woman,” Oklahoma State Republican Jim Olson 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, pregnancy outcomes are investigated,” said Tara Murta, communications director at the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, who recently co-authored a report on digital surveillance in the field of abortion.

She wonders where the inspection will end. Prosecutors have already targeted women who use drugs during pregnancy, a question Judge Clarence Thomas raised during the Supreme Court’s arguments in December.

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“Any adverse pregnancy outcome can make a pregnant woman a suspect,” Murta said.

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STATE BORDERS, TECHNICAL STEPS, PERSONAL ADVICE

Several states are beginning to withdraw, placing restrictions on technical instruments as the struggle for consumer privacy intensifies.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy, through a legal agreement, stopped a Boston-based advertising company from targeting smartphone anti-abortion ads to women at clinics there that offer abortion services as harassment. The company even suggested using the same “geo-constraint” tactic to send anti-abortion messages to high school students.

In Michigan, voters changed the state’s constitution to ban police from searching for someone’s data without a warrant. And in California, where Silicon Valley is located, voters have passed a comprehensive digital privacy law that allows people to view their data profiles and request that they be deleted. The law came into force in 2020.

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Concerns are growing and have forced Apple, Google and other technology giants to take steps to curb the sale of consumer data. This includes the launch last year of Apple’s application tracking transparency feature, which allows iPhone and iPad users to block apps from tracking them.

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

“There are things people can do that can help mitigate risk. Most people won’t do it because they don’t know about it or it’s uncomfortable, “said Nathan Fried Wesler, deputy director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “There are very, very few people who have the experience to do everything.”

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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 a few days of searching, she found an abortion appointment in nearby Delaware. Fortunately, he had a car.

“When I was going through this, it was just a survival regime,” said Jones, who is on Saturday’s march in downtown Baltimore to support abortion rights.

In addition, she said, she grew up in the age of the Internet, a world in which “all my information is sold all the time.”

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

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

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This story corrects the title of US Senator Ron Wyden, who is a senator, not a representative.

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Follow Maryclaire Dale on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Maryclairedale

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.



As Rowe doubts, some fear technical monitoring of the pregnancy

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