In the wake of the US Supreme Court overturning reproductive rights, there is now a legitimate concern that prosecutors getting access to data from period tracking apps and other apps like search engines and text messages is a real possibility. Under some state legislation, it could even be illegal to send a text message offering help or support. Via CNN:
A wave of new legislation taking aim at abortion rights across the country is raising concerns about the potential use of personal data to punish people who seek information about or access to abortion services online.
In some of the most restrictive states, digital rights experts warn that people’s search histories, location data, messages and other digital information could be used by law enforcement agencies investigating or prosecuting abortion-related cases.
Concerns about the digital privacy implications of abortion restrictions come amid a movement by Republican-controlled states, including Georgia, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, in recent years to pass laws severely curtailing access to the service. And they take on additional significance following the leak Monday of the Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, which guarantees a person’s Constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability (usually around 24 weeks). Overturning the landmark 1973 court ruling would transform the landscape of reproductive health in America, leaving abortion policy up to individual states and potentially paving the way for more than 20 states to pass new laws restricting abortions.
That story from CNN was published before The US Supreme Court struck down reproductive rights. Now in the wake of that decision, states are moving ahead with this sort of legislation. That has led Democrats to pursue legislation to provide legal protection for the privacy of this data. But in the here and now, the risk is still very real. Jake Williams, Executive Director of Threat Intelligence, SCYTHE provides this view and advice:
Search providers are required to comply with subpoenas from law enforcement when the search results themselves are evidence of a crime. Given the rapidly changing laws around access to abortion, searches for abortion and abortion related topics can be risky. While some have recommend searching using private browsing (or Incognito mode), these searches are still tied to your IP address. Ownership or use of the IP can be revealed through your ISP or mobile provider. You should ideally use a VPN when searching for legally ambiguous topics. Some past subpoenas have relied on geofencing to locate mobile phone subscribers within a particular area. It is also conceivable that this technique will be used to identify those who have traveled to a specific location where abortion or abortion related services are offered.
This is a troubling time for American women as things have moved into a place that is more akin to the Margret Atwood novel “The Handmaid’s Tale“. Thus it makes sense that anyone in this position take reasonable precautions to ensure their safety.