Digital Privacy and Abortion

When it comes to abortion rights, your digital trail matters more than you think.

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court issued a ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade — the landmark decision recognizing the constitutional right to abortion nearly 50 years ago. Even though abortion remains legal in Arizona, conflicting laws have forced clinics to close to avoid the potential criminalization of providers. 

While most abortion bans in Arizona target physicians, there are some vague laws that could apply to pregnant people and anyone helping them get an abortion. Until there is more clarity from the courts, we encourage all Arizonans to exercise caution if they are trying to access abortion care or if they are assisting a friend or family member who is – even if it’s out of state.

Keep reading to learn about the unprecedented access the government and private entities have to our digital lives, and how you can protect yourself.

Law enforcement has a long history of abusing the abundance of digital data we produce each day.

People who are seeking abortion care will have to contend with a massive digital surveillance system that could be used against them. It’s scary, but not a hypothetical threat.

Law enforcement agencies are already using invasive tools like geofence warrants.

Geofence warrants direct Google to hand over data on every user whose phone was near a specific location – which overzealous prosecutors could use on an abortion clinic or doctor’s office.

Reverse keyword search warrants can evade constitutional checks on police surveillance by compelling tech companies to hand over data about any users who searched for particular words at a specific time – imagine targeting people who searched for "abortion" or "pregnancy."

Digital technology and the data trails that tech companies collect are unavoidably connected to our daily lives. It’s urgent we ban these warrants. States like New York are already moving to prohibit both reverse location and keyword search warrants, but until then, you can take steps to protect yourself.

Here's how you can protect your digital privacy.

To help protect your digital privacy when seeking an abortion, you can:

  •  Use a privacy-first search engine like Brave or Firefox (with some privacy modifications).
  • Use an encrypted messaging app, like Signal, with disappearing messages to share your plans with friends and family. 
  • Turn off Google location and search history on your phone and other devices.
  • Turn off phone location services and review your privacy settings.

For even more protection, consider:

  • Researching any apps that you use to input sensitive health data, like period tracking apps. If it is not clear that they are putting privacy and security first, consider deleting your account and switching to a platform that is encrypted, like Euki.
  • Adding two-factor authentication to all your accounts.
  • Disabling Face ID or fingerprint ID on digital devices and using a 6-8 digit passcode to improve security. 
  • Using a software like Tor, which enables anonymous web-browsing.
  • creating anonymous emails or phone numbers when accessing abortion care.

See these guides from digital privacy and security organizations for more information:

Digital Defense Fund | Guide: Keep your Abortion Private & Secure

Electronic Frontier Foundation | Digital Safety Tips: For People Seeking Abortion

No one should have to live in fear of constant surveillance when making decisions about their health care.

We are all navigating uncharted territory under this devastating decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. In states like Arizona, where our legal right to abortion is in limbo, you can’t exersise too much caution until the courts provide some clarity around these laws. No matter what, the ACLU of Arizona stands by the right to privacy and the right to abortion – and we won’t stop fighting for either. 

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