Cellphone data collection, tracking apps can help states prosecute women seeking abortions


SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – Modern technology makes the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade more far-reaching than you may think.

While the 6-to-3 decision is sending abortion law in some states back to pre-1973 status, the technology of the day is no longer the rotary telephone. Data collection technology in cellphones will make it easier for abortion-related prosecutions to happen. 

“If you have a period tracking app, you should delete it,” said Berkeley Law School Professor Catherine Crump.

Crump is also the director of the Samuelson Clinic for Law and Technology. 

“Tech companies like everyone else has to comply with law and they may not have a choice about what data they collect, what data they are forced to disclose. The law enforcement agency gets a warrant and serves it on Google and asks for location information and it’s a valid warrant. Google is going to have a hard time not complying with that.”

It’s not just via search engine records or Google maps navigation, but also cell phone triangulation data from wireless providers. 

Professor Crump says geofence warrants used to ensnare January 6 insurrectionists and Black Lives Matter protesters could be deployed against women seeking abortion care. 

“There’s something called a geofence warrant that can be served on Google that requires it to give the names of everyone who was at a particular location at a particular time. It seems obvious that might be useful to tracking down who might’ve been at an abortion clinic.”

After the draft of the Dobbs opinion leaked in May, a group of federal legislators sought to limit how much data could be collected and shared. Efforts in that realm are still on going. 

William Budington with the Electronic Frontier Foundation says any legislation to that effect will meet with resistance from Google and others, despite offers to fund abortion-related travel for employees. 

“The problem is that Google’s entire business model is based off of data collection. So, when you offer and extend resources to employees to access services in another state, that’s one thing, but if you are asking them to limit the amount of data they’re collecting, then that’s something that touches at the core of big data, big tech’s data-driven business model,” Budington said. 



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