Data protection has been under scrutiny after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision invalidated Americans’ constitutional right to abortion in the US, especially in the 13 states that have already taken steps to outlaw the procedure.
But what kind of information may be used to prove someone’s guilt, how could law enforcement obtain it, and what are tech companies doing?
Period tracking apps leave digital footprints
The day following the decision, Gina Neff, a professor of technology and society at Oxford University, tweeted: “Right now, and I mean this instant, destroy any digital evidence of any menstruation monitoring.”
More than 200,000 people have already liked it, and 54,000 people have retweeted her post.
Women commonly use Period tracking apps to either try to prevent pregnancy or conceive, such as Flo, Clue, Stardust, and Apple Health, which can help them anticipate when their next period is likely to occur.
If police enforcement had the data, there are worries that the applications may be used to penalize people who are seeking a termination.
Natural Cycles, which advertises itself as a digital method of contraception, stated last month that all the data it held was “secure and would be safeguarded,” similar to a number of other well-known applications.
Apps data warning during the Roe v. Wade case in the US
On the other hand, it revealed to the BBC on Monday that it is aiming to “create a truly anonymous experience for users.”
No one, not even Natural Cycles, should be able to identify the user, it stated.
That suggests that encryption may be taken into account. In relation to that, how about messaging systems, which provide private communications between two close friends?
Security professionals and privacy advocates typically favor the use of end-to-end encryption messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal (Telegram is not by default encrypted, but it may be) to discuss sensitive matters.
Only the sender’s and recipient’s devices are able to decode the messages; the companies running them are unable to view the content of the messages and neither receive nor keep them.
Can someone grab my device?
This is only helpful, though, provided the gadgets themselves are not taken or unlocked by someone else.
In the US, a warrant is often required for the authorities to search an electronic device, like a phone or laptop, much like they would for a home. In general, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments provide this protection.
There are a few exceptions, though. The US police may conduct a warrantless search if they have “probable cause to suspect there is damning material in residence, on an electronic device that is under immediate threat of destruction.
Although it is theoretically possible to refuse to unlock a device even if it has been confiscated under the Fifth Amendment, which protects a person’s right not to self-incriminate, the reality is murky, according to numerous attorneys.
Tech companies are discreet
Is it time for IT companies to review their data practices now?
A number of prominent US Congressmen, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, signed an open letter to Google last month requesting that it gather and keep less data on its users, including location data, out of fear that it would be used to support abortion prosecutions.
They stated that “no law forces Google to acquire and maintain information of its consumers’ every step.”
The IT companies have not yet commented on whether they intend to alter how they gather and manage user data in response to the verdict.