Why the USA Now Needs More Digital Privacy Protections

The end of Roe v. Wade should be understood in the context of America’s vast and underregulated surveillance economy, and the reliance of law enforcement on it.

It’s true that even if Roe is overturned, there will still be legal abortions available to those who live in or can travel to states where abortion remains legal. (That is, so long as Congress doesn’t pass a national ban on abortions.) But for many, the digital breadcrumbs we leave will become potential evidence for criminal investigations. The likely end of Roe isn’t just about losing control over our bodies; it emphasizes how much control we’ve lost over our digital selves.

To begin, should the Supreme Court overturn Roe, states are free not just to ban access to legal abortions, but to criminalize it. These rights-stripping laws will arrive quickly. There are the “trigger laws” already enacted in some states that will ban abortions as soon as Roe is overturned. Some proposed bills go further. Republican lawmakers in Louisiana are pushing a bill that deems abortion a criminal homicide. By redefining a “person” from the moment of fertilization, even using an IUD or emergency contraception might fall within its scope. The proposed law could also subject the person seeking an abortion, not just the provider, to criminal prosecution.

We leave sensitive medical and location information behind in our apps, online purchases, browser searches, and public movements. That information fuels the virtually unregulated marketplace where data brokers collect massive amounts of personal information on millions of people.

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