Today, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed federal constitutional protection of abortion rights in the United States. Access Now condemns the Court’s decision, which has catastrophic implications for human rights in the digital age.
“With the end of Roe, surveillance capitalists are in a position to weaponize our decision to access reproductive healthcare,” said Jennifer Brody, U.S. Policy and Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “What we search online and where we go can be used to strip our right to autonomy over our body, expression, and life. As surveillance technologies — from smart watches to virtual assistants — continue to proliferate and monitor our every move, our health and humanity are at risk of irreparable damage.”
In light of this decision, 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, including those who travel to other states to access reproductive services. It is imperative that guardrails be put in place to ensure geolocation data trackers and other companies that harvest data cannot sell information on people seeking abortions. Better yet, companies should follow data broker SafeGraph’s example and stop selling information on people’s reproductive healthcare decisions — It is an assault on human rights. Companies should not provide government authorities access to reproductive health data.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade also has implications for the dissemination of information online about how to access abortion, making protecting safe and secure communications via encryption all the more important. It is possible for government officials in states with abortion bans to assert content about abortion services is illegal. This means platforms could be sued if they host speech related to reproductive rights. While Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects platforms from liability for hosting third-party content, U.S. legislators have proposed broad-sweeping, dangerous reforms to the law that would undermine its protections.