U.S. Congressional briefing

Post-Roe, civil society calls on data brokers to do no harm

UPDATE: August 12, 2022 — While Mobilewalla and Oracle responded to civil society, Amazon Web Services and Near failed to reply. The letters from Mobilewalla and Oracle both dismissed the question that asks whether the companies have considered conducting a human rights impact assessment or other due diligence to identify and address human rights risks. Civil society will continue to monitor the data privacy risks data brokers pose in a post-Roe world, holding them accountable to the claims they make with regards to adequate data protection safeguards.

July 20, 2022 On July 20, Access Now, Amnesty International USA, and Fight for the Future sent letters to four geolocation data brokers — Amazon Web Services Data Exchange, Oracle, Near, and Mobilewalla — about their data collection practices in a post-Roe world. Led by Representative Trahan, members of the U.S. Congress sent companion letters to the same companies.

Now that Roe v. Wade is overturned, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in states that have criminalized abortion will likely seek to access geolocation and other data to identify people who have sought abortions. This means that data collected by geolocation data brokers could easily be used by law enforcement to prosecute those who seek to exercise their reproductive rights. Law enforcement agencies are able to access this data without due legal process or a search warrant.

“Since the U.S. government has failed to protect our reproductive rights and right to privacy, we call on the private sector to take a stand,” said Jennifer Brody (she/her), U.S. Policy and Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “Geolocation data brokers profit off of deeply sensitive and private information about our whereabouts, and this must stop. Our data will forever be weaponized against us if companies ignore the need for human rights safeguards.”

“For too long data brokers have operated in the shadows, collecting and selling the personal information of hundreds of millions of people,” said Michael Kleinman (he/him), Director, Tech and Human Rights at Amnesty International USA. “We are asking them a simple question – what thought, if any, have you given to how your actions might undermine the privacy and reproductive rights of people across the U.S.?” 

“The collection and sale of our information by data brokers is the engine of surveillance capitalism,” said Caitlin Seeley George (she/her), Campaign Director at Fight for the Future. “Though many of us know that we’re tracked online, it’s impossible to fully comprehend how almost every app and website we use documents our searches, preferences, and clicks, painting our digital portrait in excruciating detail. The fact that all that information is collected is scary enough, but what’s worse is that law enforcement can easily purchase this data without a warrant or consent. Data broker companies have far more knowledge and power about us than we have about them, and they must take responsibility for their surveillance practices. Right now, that means addressing how their business model will make them complicit in the criminalization of people seeking and providing abortions.”