Pro-choice demonstrators during a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Abortion rights suddenly emerged as an issue that could reshape the battle between Democrats and Republicans for control of Congress, following a report that conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court were poised to strike down the half-century-old Roe v. Wade precedent. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tech preps for post-Roe

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Good morning. Technology has changed almost everything about the way we live in the last five decades. But if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the same technology that has made life easier could also be used against the companies who made it possible — and the users who need it. I’m Kate Cox, and it sure has been a week.

The uncertain post-Roe future

The Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, 49 years and approximately as many technological eons ago. While the legal precedent still holds as the law of the land, it seems all but certain Roe will not make it to 50. Many states already have laws on the books that will make abortion completely illegal within their borders the second Roe stops existing. But for all the talk of going “back” to a pre-Roe world, tech has completely changed the landscape — and has a huge role to play in what comes next.

Technology makes health care and legal information much easier to access. Fifty years ago, getting access to health care without actually seeing a doctor in person was significantly more challenging than it is today.

But technology can also be weaponized. Tech companies face a legal nightmare if Roe is overturned, because they may be compelled to turn over user data related to obtaining abortions.

  • Not only would they potentially have to hand over information about individuals seeking abortion care, but also about ride-hail drivers or online funding donors who help anyone obtain an abortion.
  • The issue is that most everything is tracking you, and “anonymized” data is anything but. Dozens of studies and reports published in the past decade have found that it takes very little work to pinpoint and identify individuals out of “anonymized” datasets.
  • Data brokers are already selling location data of individuals who visit abortion clinics. Vice reports it costs about $160 “to get a week's worth of data on where people who visited Planned Parenthood came from, and where they went afterwards.”

We don’t have meaningful federal privacy law, and we’re not going to anytime soon. In a post-Roe world, that leaves mountains of commercial user data wide open for cops who want to track down people trying to secure abortions.

  • Although HIPAA puts limits on how your health care providers can use your data, huge numbers of entities that can track, collect and sell data related to your health care aren’t covered under it.
  • Police have already used technologies such as facial recognition and geofencing to identify and arrest individuals, for example during the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality in 2020.
  • Law enforcement agencies also sometimes simply buy user data on the open market instead of conducting surveillance directly, thereby avoiding Fourth Amendment concerns.

So here we are. The pre- and post–Roe worlds couldn’t be farther apart thanks to technology. While the internet threw open the door to free health care information and resources, that same internet will also be used to surveil people trying to obtain health care. Tech companies might be caught in the crossfire, and what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Kate Cox (email | twitter)


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Bring your pet to work day

Pandemic pets are a different breed. The separation anxiety is real, and that only gets worse when you eventually have to leave your dog at home and go to the office. But if your office is considering a pet-friendly policy, here are some tips The Washington Post laid out:

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