when tilting Roe v. Wadethe US Supreme Court ruling in the Dobb’s case not only deprives women of reproductive control and physical power as a matter of constitutional law, but it also changes their relationship with the online world. Anyone in a state where abortion is now illegal and who relies on the Internet for information, products and services related to reproductive health is subject to online police surveillance.
All women of childbearing age, no matter how safe and privileged they may have imagined being, are now among the the marginalized and vulnerable populations whose privacy is at risk†
As a researcher who studies online privacyI know how for a while google† social mediaand internet data can generally be used for: oversight by law enforcement to cast digital trawls. Women are not only at risk because of what they reveal about their reproductive status on social media, but also because of their data health applicationswho could charge them if they were subpoenaed.
Who is being tracked and how?
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People most vulnerable to online privacy breaches and to the use or misuse of their data have traditionally been those who deserve less protection from society: people without resources, power, or social status† Surveillance targeting marginalized people reflects not only a lack of interest in protecting them, but also a suspicion that their social identities make them more likely to commit crimes or transgress in ways that justify preventive police work†
Many marginalized people happen to be women, including: low-income mothers, for whom the mere act of applying for government aid may subject them to suspicions of criminal intent. These presumptions are often used to justify: invasion of their privacy† Now, with anti-abortion laws that Republican-controlled states and ready to go into effect with the Roe v. Wade ending, all women of childbearing age in those states will likely be subject to the same presumptions.
In the past, women only had to worry about that Target whether Amazon could learn from their pregnancies. Based on what is already known about privacy violations by law enforcement against marginalized peopleis it likely that in the post-Roe world women will be more in the crosshairs of digital forensics† For example, law enforcement agencies routinely use: forensic tools to search people’s cell phones when investigating a wide variety of crimes, sometimes without a search warrant.
Imagine a scenario where a coworker or neighbor reports someone to authorities, giving law enforcement reasons to seek digital evidence. That evidence could be, for example, internet searches about abortion providers and menstrual app data showing missed periods.
The risk is especially acute in places where bounty hunt† In a state like Texas, where citizens have the power to sue people who help others access abortion services, everything you say or do becomes relevant in any context because there is no possible cause obstacle for access to your data†
Beyond that, it’s difficult to do full justice to all the risks, because context matters and different combinations of circumstances can conspire to magnify the damage. Here are risks to keep in mind:
- Share information about your pregnancy on social media.
- Search behavior on the internet directly or indirectly related to your pregnancy or reproductive health, regardless of the search engine you use.
- Track location via your phonefor example, to show that you have visited a place that may be related to your reproductive health.
- Using apps that reveal relevant sensitive datalike your menstrual cycle.
- Being overconfident in using encryption or anonymous tools.
Scholars, including my colleagues and I, have sounded the alarm for years, arguing that surveillance activities and lack of privacy threaten the most vulnerable end up being a threat to everyone† That’s because the number of people at risk can increase when political forces identify a wider population as a threat that warrants surveillance.
The lack of action on privacy vulnerabilities is partly due to a lack of imagination, which is often blinders people who see their own position as largely safe in a social and political system.
However, there is another reason for inattention. When considering general privacy obligations and requirements, the privacy and security community has been engaged in a debate for decades about whether people really care about their privacy in practice, even if they value it in principle.
I would argue that the privacy paradox – the belief that people are less motivated to protect their privacy than they claim to be – remains conventional wisdom to this day. This view diverts attention from taking action, including giving people tools to fully evaluate their risks. The privacy paradox is arguably more of a commentary on how few people understand the implications of what is being mentioned surveillance capitalism or feel empowered to defend themselves against it.
With the general public portrayed as indifferent, it is easy to assume that people generally do not want or need protection, and that all groups are equally at risk. Neither is true.
It’s hard to talk about silver linings, but as these online risks spread to a wider population, the importance of online safety will become a common concern. Online safety includes being careful digital footprints and the use of anonymous browsers.
This article by Nora McDonaldAssistant Professor of Information Technology, University of Cincinnati has been reissued from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article†