“Womb Surveillance”: the fear that is triggered after the repeal of the right to abortion in the US in the digital age

With its landmark decision Friday striking down constitutional protections for the right to abortion, the Supreme Court has returned the United States, in many ways, to the pre-1973 era, when such protections for voluntary termination of pregnancy had been recognized. Many things, however, have radically changed in 49 years. and the eldest revolution occurred at that time, that of the technologynow triggers the alarm at the possibility that in the states that have already begun to outlaw abortion, and those that will do so, exploit tools and uses of the digital age to persecute women who abort or attempt it and those who, in one way or another, assist them. It is the fear of “surveillance of the womb & rdquor ;.

The concept was coined in May, when the draft of the sentence was leaked, the Democratic senator Ron Wyden, who spoke about him at an Aspen Institute webinar and tweeted him the next day, writing: “Republicans want nothing more than a dystopian state of surveillance of the uterus & rdquor;. It is also repeated among other legislators, legal and privacy and technology experts, activists and observers, who have been warning for some time that, in this digital age, the Supreme Court’s decision, combined with new and growing extreme anti-abortion lawsrepresents a time bomb.

Vulnerable data

With the criminalization of virtually any interruption of abortion that these laws promote, law enforcement Conservative states could start looking at anything they think might give information as to whether it was deliberate, either through a surgical abortion or through the abortion pills, with which more than half of the abortions in the US are performed and whose access has been limited or prohibited by some states. (Missouri has proposed, for example, that shipping or delivering pills be considered drug trafficking, and Louisiana has passed a law making shipping pills a felony punishable by up to six months in jail.)

The same could be done by thebounty hunters” in which laws such as those in force in Texas and Oklahoma convert any citizen who wants to denounce an abortion.

In the focus of authorities or those “bounty hunters & rdquor; would potentially enter internet search histories that have been made, pages that have been visited, phone location data or of card payments of credit, communications maintained or even data from apps that women use to keep track of their periods.

“Can worsen what types of information and investigative techniques they are exploited in the service of those laws & rdquor ;, Nate Wessler warned before the issuance of the sentence on Friday from the American Civil Liberties Union. “It is clear that we will see aggressive investigations soon probably”, he warned in recent statements to ‘Politico’.

This scenario is the one that triggers the alarms, especially due to the lack of federal regulations in the US that guarantee the iron data protection or control your trade. And the problem was exposed in early May, when a ‘Vice’ reporter bought visitor data from more than 600 Planned Parenthood centers for $160.

political action

US President Joe Biden referenced this growing fear in his reaction speech to the Supreme Court ruling on Friday, warning about “extremist governors and state legislators” that, among other things, “they try to control the actions of a woman by following applications that she uses” .

Fear had also recently led Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Wyden, to file a law proposal that seeks to strengthen data protection. Although the chances of it going ahead in Congress for now are practically nil, the law, entitled “My body, my data”, would prohibit companies from retaining data on reproductive health of their clients without their consent and would also prohibit brokers from selling user data on location or health. Those same members of Congress sent a letter Friday to the Federal Trade Commission urging it to open big tech stock research.


Alerts are based on precedent. already in 2018for example, a missouri woman was already arrestedcharged with second degree murder for the loss of her baby at 36 weeks of pregnancy. The woman claimed that she was born dead but she was charged after the authorities seized her telephone and see that I had searched for information about mifepristone and misoprostol, abortion medication. Although a grand jury rejected the charges, the process dragged on for three years.

“We have already seen people arrested and charged using electronic surveillance and we can imagine how much it’s going to get worse in the post-Roe world & rdquor ;, Albert Fox Cahn, of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told Politico. “Let’s see a huge focus on surveillance of telemedicine and online abortion services because for millions of Americans this is going to be more and more their only way to guarantee safe abortion care & rdquor ;.

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Also the leaders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, organization specializing in digital rights, have warned in a statement that “those who seek, offer or facilitate access to abortion they must now assume that any data they give online or offline can be searched by law enforcement”.

Both that organization and others specializing in privacy urge technology companies to reinforce the protection of their users through steps such as allowing the anonymous Access, abandon the use of tools behavior and location trackingstrengthen the policies of data wipe and ensure that users are informed when someone seeks to get them. Women, meanwhile, are urged to also take steps such as use browsers that limit tracking such as Tor and DuckDuckGo , VPNs and encrypted messaging services like Signal.

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