Cybersecurity in a Post-Roe World

Cybersecurity in a Post-Roe World

Digital and face-to-face surveillance is the new norm in states where access to abortion care will be criminalized. However, experts have some suggestions on how to protect your data and yourself

Following the dismantling of the Supreme Court of Roe against WadeAdvocates of abortion have struggled to diagnose how the risk of criminalization increases for pregnant people and what can be done to protect anyone who needs an abortion, even if they live in a state ruled by anti-abortion forces.

Much has been written about people deleting period tracking apps, which collect data that could be used to target those seeking medications or surgical abortions. But, as experts warn, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to personal safety.

Over the past decade, abortion rights groups have had to dodge piracy attacks from opponents, who have stolen information about providers and patients and shut down websites. And there are cases where something as innocuous as a Google search has become a weapon as evidence against pregnant people: think of the Mississippi woman who was charged with fetishism in 2017 based on a pill search online abortionists. Or the Missouri health official who admitted in 2019 that his office monitors information about Planned Parenthood patients, including their menstrual cycles, to determine if anyone tried to have an abortion.

“The anti-election movement has been working for this for decades. This is where they have gone every time they talk about wanting to pass abortion bans, well, how will those bans be enforced? What does that look like? ” says Dina Montemarano, research director of the nonprofit advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice. “We’ve seen the levels of cruelty that people are willing to lower, in terms of ‘bounty hunt’ abortion bans like this one in Texas, enforced by vigilantes. So the current confusion and lack of clarity is part of of the anti-election agenda.It scares people, i [people] they will not receive the attention they need. ”

The latest war on access to abortion only emphasizes the need for people to take a holistic approach to combating surveillance, especially with most major technology companies remaining silent about how they will deal, for example, state citations for data on abortion applicants. More than 22 states have already banned, or are preparing to ban, abortion following the SCOTUS decision, and although these laws have abortion as their primary goal. suppliersit is no exaggeration to imagine it as a massive strip of Potential patients could also be criminalized.

Digital surveillance is an important part of this puzzle, whether it is a passive risk of third-party platforms or more specific attempts by anti-abortion forces to observe, collect and take advantage of data from people seeking abortion services. Anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers,” for example, have been caught recruiting people with the vague promise of abortion care, just to record their personal information and monitor it long-term.

Even trusted organizations like Planned Parenthood have been criticized for big blind spots in data security, with a new Washington Post report alleging that users scheduling abortion appointments have shared their IP addresses and site behavior with Google, Facebook and TikTok, an “absolutely shocking” revelation, according to a digital security expert. This information can be taken out and resold online by a variety of data brokerage companies; last month, journalists from VICI managed to buy data for a week, which includes details about visitors from hundreds of Planned Parenthood locations, for the negligible sum of $ 160.

Lawmakers have made efforts this month to curb the collection and sale of personal information by apps and websites, but absorption is slow, especially with a lack of input from big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon. . Meanwhile, experts suggest a variety of personal protocols to protect people requesting abortion. Keeping your Internet search histories clean is a simple tip, as well as deleting text messages that talk about abortion and disabling location tracking if you visit an abortion provider. Montemarano also suggests using a VPN (virtual private network), which encrypts your Internet connection and disguises online activity.

Other organizations offer even more options to protect communications: Repro Legal Helpline, run by the abortion group If / When / How, offers to talk to people through encrypted applications like Signal and Protonmail. The group also suggests using the Tor private browser as a safer platform to investigate self-managed abortions and other information.

The second big piece of the puzzle is that it is not purely digital surveillance that matters, but it is also personal surveillance, harassment of anti-abortion activists and snitchings that have caused problems for people looking for abortions. “Fake health clinics already receive extensive information about people, and while there is a piece of digital surveillance, the fact is that any bad actor with someone’s information can only call and give advice to the forces of the order, ”Montemarano says. “This is also the case for people protesting outside abortion clinics, engraving people’s faces, license plates and getting this information across.”

Several states have created systems for people to report suspected abortions, and some have even increased financial incentives: the Texas Heartbeat Act, for example, says residents can literally sue people who have helped in an effort. abortion for $ 10,000 or more. There is concern that abusive couples or relatives may use these mechanisms to criminalize and prevent someone from requesting an abortion; Montemarano also points out that doctors and doctors could be pressured to write to potential abortion seekers or face legal ramifications. This is a common setup of how people end up being questioned by police and their phone and fingerprint are confiscated, he says.

“It shouldn’t be the responsibility of all people to learn all these complicated ways to protect themselves while seeking care,” Montemarano adds. “We should have structures that protect them.”

It’s too early to really understand what threats the future holds for people in a post-Roe landscape; some experts fear that the closure of abortion clinics in conservative states could cause anti-abortion activists to concentrate attacks on those who remain, or even the reappearance of hackers who eliminate providers like Planned Parenthood. But one good thing is that none of these attacks are especially new. Those at the forefront of abortion care delivery have long observed and devised strategies around antagonism, whether of extremist agitators on the ground or state chapter laws.

There is a challenging balance when it comes to warning people of online security risks without deterring anyone from seeking attention to abortion, Montemarano concludes. But as experts like her discover how to create the resources needed to protect people, being diligent online (and on the ground) is a crucial first layer of defense.

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