A group of more than 40 Democratic members of Congress have asked Google to stop collecting and withholding “unnecessary” local data for fear that it could be used to identify and prosecute people who have obtained abortions.
The request was made in a letter sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Tuesday by members of the House and Senate, led by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and including well-known progressive representatives such as Ayanna Pressley, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“We believe abortion is a health service,” the letter states. “We will fight tooth and nail to ensure that it remains recognized as a fundamental right, and that all people in the United States have control over their own bodies. That said, we are concerned that in a world where abortion might be illegal, the current Google ‘s practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for far – right extremists seeking to slow down “people seeking reproductive health care.”
The letter specifically refers to geobarrel warrants, a controversial technique in which law enforcement agencies request that technical companies provide data on all cell phones that have passed through a geographically defined area in a certain period of time. Geofence warrants have been criticized for their use in the survey of protesters during Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and their use has grown dramatically in recent years: data released by Google showed a pronounced spike from 2018 to 2020.
Basically, geo-fence data is only available after a court order – but with more than 20 states preparing to ban abortion immediately Roe v. Wade is overturned, it is increasingly plausible that such a mandate could be used to target any visiting abortion provider.
To prevent this from happening, the signatories of the letter request that Google restructure its local data collection practices so that device data is only collected on an aggregate level, rather than individually, and is not stored by the company longer than required. . The letter also contrasts Google’s location data policy with Apple’s decision to minimize location data retention, stating that “Americans who can afford an iPhone have greater privacy from government surveillance of their movements than the tens of millions of Americans who use Android. devices. “
Reproductive rights advocates have been on high alert since a a draft opinion was leaked on May 3 suggesting that the Supreme Court intends to overturn Roe v. Wade. In particular, many have expressed concern that digital surveillance technology could be used to prosecute people seeking abortions. On the same day that the Democratic charter was published, the New York Surveillance Technology Oversight Project published a report about the many ways people seeking abortions could be tracked, citing a number of existing cases where data from internet search history or credit card transactions were used against people who terminated pregnancies.
In a statement, Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, welcomed the congressional letter, saying that Google must remove its local data or be “complicit in criminalizing abortion.”
“It’s not enough for tech companies to say they’re pro-choice, they need to stop collecting data that risks pregnant women,” Cahn said. “There is no way for Texas to deploy state police at every out-of-state abortion clinic, but with data from Google and other companies, they don’t need to. If the tech giants don’t act soon, we’ll see pregnant people looking for an out-of-state abortion, only to return home on an arrest warrant. “
So far, Google has not made any public response to the letter; the company did not immediately respond to inquiries sent by The Edge.