Online data could be used against people seeking abortions if Roe v. Wade falls
When the draft of a Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked to the press, many of us who have been studying privacy for vulnerable individuals came to a troubling realization: The marginalized and vulnerable populations whose online risks have been the subject of our attention are likely to grow exponentially. These groups are poised to encompass all women of child-bearing age, regardless of how secure and how privileged they may have imagined themselves to be.
In overturning Roe, the anticipated decision would not merely deprive women of reproductive control and physical agency as a matter of constitutional law, but it would also change their relationship with the online world. Anyone in a state where abortion becomes illegal who relies on the internet for information, products and services related to reproductive health would be subject to online policing.
People who are most vulnerable to online privacy encroachment and to the use or abuse of their data have traditionally been those society deems less worthy of protection: people without means, power or social standing. Surveillance directed at marginalized people reflects not only a lack of interest in protecting them, but also a presumption that, by virtue of their social identity, they are more likely to commit crimes or to transgress in ways that might justify preemptive policing.
Many marginalized people happen to be women, including low-income mothers, for whom the mere act of applying for public assistance can subject them to presumptions of criminal intent. These presumptions are often used to justify invasions of their privacy. Now, with anti-abortion legislation sweeping Republican-controlled states and poised to go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, all women of reproductive age in those states are likely to be subject to those same presumptions.