Technology and the State in a Post-Roe America

since the fall of Roe vs. Wade At the end of June this year, fears began to spread about what would be aRoe it will be the world for people who can get pregnant in the United States. Discussions about things like online privacy, abortion networks, and self-managed abortion options have dominated conversations both inside and outside the reproductive justice movement. Now, it seems that some of those fears are starting to come true.

Earlier this month, it emerged that Facebook messages exchanged between a mother and her 17-year-old daughter were used by a Nebraska state court to charge both parties with a series of felony and misdemeanor charges related to a self-managed abortion. The abortion, which took place before the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization the decision was rendered on June 24, it was made through the use of mifepristone and misoprostol, a common drug combination used for self-managed abortions. In Nebraska, current law allows abortions up to 20 weeks, but in this case the daughter is believed to have been around 28 weeks pregnant when she had the abortion. Although she told police that she had suffered a miscarriage, they continued to investigate her claims and ultimately served Facebook with a search warrant for the mother and daughter’s account information. The two had discussed abortion, as well as the removal of the fetus, on Facebook Messenger.

Although Facebook maintains that nothing in the search warrant mentions abortion, the damage was already done once they complied. The daughter is now being charged as an adult with one felony (removing/abandoning/concealing a human body) and two misdemeanors (false reporting and concealing the death of another person). Her mother has been charged with five felonies and a third individual, a man who helped them burn and bury the fetus, has also been charged. Evidence obtained from their Facebook accounts has been used to issue further search warrants, and the mother and daughter will now appear for a jury trial in Nebraska in October of this year.

This is not the first time that Facebook has come under fire for issues related to abortion. In late June, it was reported that the company was removing posts on both Instagram and Facebook that mentioned abortion pills. Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has also been accused of helping crisis pregnancy centers gain access to the sensitive information of users who are considering abortions. These centers, which claim to offer medical care, are actually institutions whose mission is to discourage people from seeking abortions, often through the use of religious rhetoric. Facebook is violating its own policies by allowing this data to be collected, as its parent company, Meta, considers “sexual and reproductive health” information to fall under the category of “sensitive health information,” which cannot be disclosed. . By allowing crisis pregnancy centers access to this data, Facebook is putting its customers in real danger, both personally and legally.

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The criminalization of abortion has not only been occurring since the dobbs decision. According to a new report from If/When/How, a legal organization focused on reproductive justice, 61 people were “criminally investigated for allegedly terminating their own pregnancy or helping someone else to do so” between 2000 and 2020. Each of these cases occurred when Roe It was legal precedent. What can we expect now that he’s gone?

Such acts by law enforcement can also affect people outside of the abortion context. Underserved communities, facing rampant discrimination and lack of access to the formal medical system in the United States, are more likely to turn to self-managed abortion methods. And when they do, they are more likely to be charged with serious crimes. BIPOC people, who already experience state violence more than their white counterparts, were found to have twice the risk of being charged with homicide after abortion than white people, according to the report. Some investigations led to the state forcibly taking people’s children and placing them in social service agencies.

All technology companies make explicit decisions when it comes to what data they want to collect from users and how they will use that data. And while some might say that some data collection is relatively harmless and can, in fact, greatly improve users’ experiences with a product, none of that really matters. In reality, these companies explicitly prioritize their own profits over the safety of their customers.

To target ads effectively, Meta stores users’ personal data and then uses that data to choose which ads to show to those users. The more data Facebook has, the more personalized their ads can be and the more money they can earn. Facebook messages, which are at the core of the Nebraska case, are not end-to-end encrypted, meaning Facebook has access to the plain text of your messages. If a user mentions something in a private message in the Facebook Messenger app, the company can use that data point to help with ad targeting.

The option to turn on end-to-end encryption is available in the Messages app, but users need to turn it on themselves (see how to do it here). The company hasn’t made the end-to-end encryption feature automatic because they simply want as much access to as much data as possible. If people encrypt their data, Facebook loses the ability to read it. As a result, they lose access to the data that helps them make money. The entire way Facebook has designed its platforms prioritizes profit margins over user safety.

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There are alternative ways to build messaging products: Some messaging apps, like Signal, are end-to-end encrypted by default, meaning that even if the company were to hand over information to law enforcement, it would be undecipherable. Signal can’t turn over the text of your messages to the police because they simply don’t have them. By not automatically encrypting user data end-to-end, Facebook and other tech companies continually prioritize private corporate interests and profits over the basic security of their users. They could make the decision to protect users, but instead they are making it easier for the state to target people and wage violence.

After public outcry over the Nebraska case, Facebook announced that messages in its app will be end-to-end encrypted by default by 2023. This reversal of previous practices does not help those who have already suffered real harm.

In reproductive justice spaces, there is no room for ambivalence when it comes to our position on the state, as well as the tech companies that work with it to provide sensitive information about their clients. In the same way, we should also not have any ambivalence when it comes to our position on the police. It is not enough to say that we do not like these institutions; rather, we must actively resist them at all times. Laws restricting abortion access across the country will be enforced by the police, and tech companies like Facebook will help them do so. Both play an important role in protecting the state and defending its power. They don’t keep us safe. We make. It is imperative that we organize now to defend the right of all who can become pregnant not only to abortion, but to safe and legal abortion, without fear and without restrictions. The state and the private sector will not fight for our rights, so we must fight ourselves.

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