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How a Digital Abortion Footprint Could Lead to Criminal Charges

TIME: “Getting away with breaking the law in the digital age is tricky. Almost everything one does—whether it’s making a Google search for “how to clean up a crime scene,” purchasing suspicious items on Amazon, or merely having been in the proximity of a crime scene with a cell phone that had its location services turned on—can be discovered via court-issued warrant and lead to charges and convictions. If Roe v. Wade is overturned—as a draft of a Supreme Court opinion signaled it might be— soon having or helping procure an abortion could become a crime in some states. And that means individuals’ personal internet data could be collected and used against them if they seek or facilitate a pregnancy termination. “Your geolocation data, apps for contraception, web searches, phone records—all of it is open season for generating data to weaponize the personal information of women across the country,” Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and longtime proponent of digital privacy reform, tells TIME. In states that not only outlaw but criminalize abortion—a move that Louisiana is considering adopting after a final decision from the Supreme Court—a pregnant woman’s digital search of abortion-inducing medication, online purchase of pregnancy tests, or email request for financial support to a pro-abortion resource group could be deployed against her in criminal proceedings. In states that criminalize assisting in abortions, data revealing frequent trips to a reproductive health clinic could also be used. “Everything we do is traceable,” says Bennett Capers, a visiting criminal law professor at Yale University and full professor at Fordham’s law school. “Once getting an abortion is illegal, then attempting to get an abortion is also illegal.” In recent years, several Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation to bring America’s digital privacy laws into the 21st century and enshrine safeguards against the unfettered collection of individuals’ personal data by governments and companies for criminal surveillance and corporate profit. Now, Wyden and his colleagues are pushing with renewed urgency to get those bills passed, hoping the leak of the draft opinion spurs Congress to action with the Supreme Court’s final decision anticipated to come down in the next two months. “A lot of privacy rules are from the Dark Ages,” Wyden says. “The SCOTUS prospects certainly drive home the real world consequences of the law not keeping up with the time.”…

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