How online searches and texting can put you at risk after Roe v. Wade

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After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision protecting the legal right to abortion, many people looked to the early 1970s for what life would look like without a long-standing precedent.

But access to abortion in 2022 has changed a lot, thanks in large part to technological innovations, including safe drugs used to terminate pregnancies.

There are also new digital tools that can connect people with health care providers, friends and other resources, making it much easier to find information about access to abortion.

With the lifting of the milestone ordinance, for the first time many people ask whether the digital tools they use could put them or their loved ones at risk. Because the US and most states no digital privacy laws To protect consumer information, businesses and consumers often have to protect their online privacy.

Here’s what to know about how digital tools collect data, how prosecutors can use that information in abortion and pregnancy cases, and how consumers can be more mindful of the data they share.

How digital tools collect and use your data

How to protect your information

The best way to protect any information on the Internet is to keep it to a minimum. Some providers have recently taken steps to help consumers minimize their digital footprint when it comes to reproductive health.

Google said last week that he would work to quickly remove location information for users who visit abortion clinics or other medical sites. It will also make it easier for users to delete multiple period data logs from the Fitbit app.

Period tracking app Flo recently added an anonymous mode that allows users to log their menstrual cycles without giving their names or contact information.

But to a large extent, consumers must protect their information. Here are some ways users can protect the information they share online, whether it’s health-related or not, based on advice from digital privacy experts like Electronic Frontier Foundation as well as Digital Defense Fund:

  • Use encrypted messaging app For example, Signal to communicate on sensitive topics and set messages to self-delete after a set period of time. This means that other users on your network can also use the same application.

Enabling disappearing messages on an encrypted messaging app like Signal can help secure your conversations.

Lauren Finer | Screenshot

  • Turn off or restrict location services only the apps you need on your phone while you use them.
  • If you are visiting a confidential place, consider turning your phone off or leaving it at home.
  • When searching the Internet for sensitive topics, use a search engine and browser that minimizes data collectionlike DuckDuckGo, Firefox or Brave.
  • Use private browsing tab therefore, your site history will not be automatically saved.
  • Use virtual private network to hide the IP address of your device.
  • Turn off Mobile Advertising ID which may be used by third party marketers to track and profile you. EFF has step by step instructions on how to do it on Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

Turn off app tracking on iOS for extra privacy.

Lauren Finer | Screenshot

  • Tune secondary email address and phone numbere.g. via Google Voice, for sensitive topics.

How data can be used in court

The risks associated with prosecutors using digital tools in abortion or miscarriage cases are not theoretical.

Least two high-profile cases in recent yearsprosecutors pointed to Internet searches for abortion pills and digital messages between loved ones to illustrate the intent of the women who were accused of harming children they claimed had miscarried.

These cases show that even tools that are not directly related to reproductive health, such as period tracking apps, can become evidence in an abortion or miscarriage case.

It’s also important to be aware that law enforcement may try to get your information without access to your devices. Prosecutors may seek court orders for companies you use or loved ones you have contacted to learn about your digital location if they become the subject of a lawsuit.

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