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‘A uniquely dangerous tool’: How Google’s data can help states track abortions

Politico: “Many of the states rushing to ban abortion are also the biggest users of a surveillance tool that authorities could use to track women ending their pregnancies — the location data from people’s phones. Supporters of abortion rights are expressing growing alarm about the potential uses that police or prosecutors could find for this data after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, including to target abortion providers or the people seeking the procedure. It wouldn’t be hard to do, because states across the country are already using this kind of data for other investigations. And a POLITICO analysis found that many of the states that have criminalized abortion have relied increasingly on location data in recent years to probe crimes including robbery and sexual assault. Figures from Google, one of the most prolific collectors of location data, show that the company received 5,764 “geofence” warrants between 2018 and 2020 from police in the 10 states that have banned abortion as of July 5. These warrants demand GPS data showing which mobile devices were present in a specified area during a particular time period, and can help investigate individuals who were present at crime scenes or other locations of interest. Google doesn’t specify what alleged crimes these warrants concerned, and no known cases have come to light yet of geofence warrants being used to prosecute abortions. But the data shows that the use of these warrants is widespread — and that states have established procedures that they could quickly shift for use in abortion investigations. Abortion foes have already used this kind of data to target mobile ads at people visiting abortion clinics, prompting Massachusetts’ attorney general to crack down in 2016 on an advertising company that was marketing the information. But last month’s Supreme Court ruling increases the peril from the disclosure of such granular personal data, as more states pass laws allowing prosecutions or lawsuits against people who provide or assist in an abortion or help women cross state lines to obtain one…”

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