Mobile apps are a privacy nightmare. The Roe decision put them in the spotlight.

When the news broke on June 24e that the U.S. Supreme Court had formally struck down Roe vs. Wadedeclaring that the constitutional right to abortion no longer exists, privacy advocates almost immediately began sounding the alarm.

The right to abortion and the right to privacy may seem like disparate freedoms, but the right to access to abortion, according to the original 1973 Roe decision, is based on a guaranteed right to privacy. by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, privacy advocates say. . The concern is that the ruling could now have broader impacts on other types of privacy that Americans consider a basic right.

“If this reasoning were adopted, not only would it overturn half a century of abortion rights, but it would undermine the long-standing constitutional right to privacy, which has played a role in protecting everything from right to contraceptives to the right to same-sex marriage,” Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said in an interview with Mashable.

Eva Galperin (@evacide), director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and well-known digital privacy expert, was one of the first infosec and privacy professionals to step up to Twitter.

“I’ve spent my career helping activists and journalists in authoritarian countries, where it’s often wise to anticipate several steps when it comes to digital privacy. Now tech workers need to apply that mindset to people offering and requesting abortions,” she tweeted.

One topic that immediately came to the fore in the weeks following the June news was the questions surrounding menstrual tracking apps, and whether or not the data could be used to determine a person’s pregnancy and therefore used as evidence if a state wants to prosecute a person who obtains a termination.

But as the conversation unfolded, many noted that while concerns about rule followings weren’t unfounded, it does bring up a larger discussion about how all sorts of apps use rules. data that can be weaponized.

“Just because period tracking apps could be a way to track down people who might have had an abortion, it doesn’t follow that getting rid of your period tracker app will make you safe. Abandoning automatic period tracking imposes a high cost – and it is a cost with very little security benefit against law enforcement attacks on forced birth,” said Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) , a privacy activist and journalist, in his blog. , Pluralist. “Why? Well, data leakage from some vintage apps may be horrible, but it’s not. exceptional. The apps, sold as a tool to improve the quality and security of software by subjecting them to surveillance by Google and Apple, are privacy nightmares. »

Whitney Merrill (@wbm312), a privacy and computer security attorney, agreed with that sentiment.

“Ha, that’s exactly the rant I went on a podcast yesterday with the amazing

@privacypen”, she tweeted. “We should care more about privacy issues for all apps, not just policy trackers.”

Emily Gorcenski (@EmilyGorcenski), technologist, activist and writer, said the conversation highlights a much broader concern about the need for better laws that protect the privacy of citizens in the United States.

“The fears around period-tracking data are greatly exaggerated, but their existence shows how badly we need a US data privacy law,” she says.

Google takes a stand on health privacy

Google found its way into the privacy conversation just over a week later, noting that it will immediately delete location history when users visit certain types of sensitive medical facilities, including hospital clinics. abortion.

“Today, we’re announcing that if our systems identify that someone has visited one of these locations, we will remove those Location History entries shortly after their visit,” wrote Jen Fitzpatrick, vice president. Senior President of Core Systems and Experiences at Google. in a July 1 blog post.

Google also added that it considers visits to fertility centers, addiction treatment centers, shelters for victims of domestic violence and weight loss clinics to be equally personal and private and will soon implement a new feature that will automatically remove visits to these types of places.

Digital rights activist Evan Greer (@evan_greer), director of non-profit organization Fight for the Future, noted that while the move is positive, Google needs to take a closer look at its collection practices given the amount of data it keeps on users daily.

“It’s a good thing in the sense that it shows that tech companies are feeling the heat to clean up the surveillance mess they’ve created. not be weaponized against access to abortion,” Greer said. tweeted.

POTUS takes the next step in privacy

The conversation about privacy moved to another level last Friday when President Joe Biden announced his intention to sign an executive order aimed at protecting reproductive rights following the Roe decision. In a fact sheet for the executive order, he addresses several areas of concern, including concerns about threats to individual digital privacy and the ability of law enforcement to use data as a means to restrict reproductive rights. . The order also directs the Federal Trade Commission to consider other protections for those seeking and accessing abortion information.

“It’s a big deal for privacy,” tweeted Tonya Riley (@TonyaJoRiley), writer at CyberScoop. “Biden digs deeper into privacy in the fact sheet of his new executive order for the protection of reproductive health care.”

But some privacy experts, including Jules Polonetsky (@JulesPolonetsky), CEO of Future of Privacy Forum, felt the order didn’t go far enough.

“I guess I would have wanted a strong call for federal privacy legislation…and a call for industry to do more to restrict/protect/delete the data they hold “, she tweeted.

This article originally appeared in the CSO Social Security Newsletter. Subscribe today!

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Casey J. Nelson