Republican prosecutors can subpoena phone data to hunt down 'evidence' of possible abortions
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We are about to see a new wave of anti-abortion terrorism and violence, thanks to a Supreme Court majority that believes individual rights not only ought to flip around according to the whims of each new election but that if the U.S. Constitution makes things awkward, the states can designate private-citizen bounty hunters and evade whatever else the courts might say about it.
Sen. Ron Wyden is dead right when he warns that we’re about to see a new era in which women who seek abortions or who might seek abortions are going to have their digital data hunted down. Much of the hunting will be by Republican-state prosecutors looking to convict women who cross state lines into better, less trashy states to seek abortions that are now illegal in New Gilead. But in states like Texas, it’s likely to be private anti-abortion groups gathering up that data—not just to target women seeking abortion, but as potential source of cash. The $10,000 bounty on Texas women who get abortions after six weeks turns such stalking into a potentially lucrative career.
Sen. Wyden to Gizmodo: “The simple act of searching for ‘pregnancy test’ could cause a woman to be stalked, harassed and attacked. With Texas style bounty laws, and laws being proposed in Missouri to limit people’s ability to travel to obtain abortion care, there could even be a profit motive for this outsourced persecution.”
It’s not just that Republican prosecutors can subpoena data records of pregnant women looking for, for example, evidence that they might have looked up “pregnancy test” or “abortion pills” or “my remaining civil rights.” All of those would constitute “evidence” that woman who had a miscarriage might not have “wanted” her pregnancy—thus paving the way for criminal charges. It’s happened before, despite Roe, and after Roe falls will likely become a rote fixture of red-state prosecutions.
We’re likely to to see such subpoenas become a primary way for conservative state prosecutors to “prove” that American women crossing state lines did so to obtain now-criminalized abortions. “Even a search for information about a clinic could become illegal under some state laws, or an effort to travel to a clinic with an intent to obtain an abortion,” Electronic Privacy Information Center president Alan Butler told The Washington Post.
Republican states have already been examining ways to criminalize such travel. It’s coming, and American women will find that the phones they use to look up reproductive health questions can also be used by prosecutors to hunt them down for asking the wrong questions.
Bounty hunters looking for women to target may not have those same subpoena powers—though heaven knows what the future will bring, in a theocratic state that finds its best legal wisdom from colonial era witch hunters—but they will have the power of extremely amoral data tracking companies on their side. It was revealed just days ago that data broker SafeGraph, slivers of which may be hidden on your own phone inside apps that quietly collect and sell the information they gather on you, specifically offers tracking data for phones visiting Planned Parenthood providers—including the census tracks visitors came from and returned to.
For just $160, SafeGraph has been selling that data to anyone willing to buy it. It’s a trivial investment for bounty hunters eager to cross-reference such clues to find who to next target. It’s also a valuable tool for would-be domestic terrorists, of the sort that are going to be once again emboldened by a Supreme Court nod to their beliefs that not only should abortion be banned, but that activists are justified in attacking those that think otherwise. Nobody can plausibly think far-right violence will decrease, in the bizarre landscape in which they have finally achieved victory in half the states while being rebuffed by the others. It has never happened that way. It never will.
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Another data miner, Placer, tracks Planned Parenthood visitors to their homes and provides the routes they took. Among the apps mining data for Placer is popular tracking app “Life360.”