Jia Tolentino, the New Yorker:
If you become pregnant, your phone generally knows before many of your friends do. The entire Internet economy is built on meticulous user tracking — of purchases, search terms — and, as laws modelled on Texas’s S.B. 8 proliferate, encouraging private citizens to file lawsuits against anyone who facilitates an abortion, self-appointed vigilantes will have no shortage of tools to track and identify suspects. (The National Right to Life Committee recently published policy recommendations for anti-abortion states that included criminal penalties for anyone who provides information about self-managed abortion “over the telephone, the internet, or any other medium of communication.”) A reporter for Vice recently spent a mere hundred and sixty dollars to purchase a data set on visits to more than six hundred Planned Parenthood clinics. Brokers sell data that make it possible to track journeys to and from any location — say, an abortion clinic in another state. In Missouri, this year, a lawmaker proposed a measure that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident of the state get an abortion elsewhere; as with S.B. 8, the law would reward successful plaintiffs with ten thousand dollars. The closest analogue to this kind of legislation is the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.
Two data brokers, Safegraph and Placer.ai, said they removed Planned Parenthood visits from their data sets. They could reverse that decision at any time, and there is nothing preventing another company from offering its own package of users seeking a form of healthcare that is now illegal in a dozen states. People have little choice about which third-party providers receive data from the apps and services they use. Anyone using a period tracking app is at risk of that data being subpoenaed and, while some vendors say they do not pass health records to brokers, some of those same apps were found to be inadvertently sharing records with Facebook.
If the U.S. had more protective privacy laws, it would not make today’s ruling any less of a failure to uphold individuals’ rights in the face of encroaching authoritarian policies. But it would make it a whole lot harder for governments and those deputized on their behalf to impose their fringe views against medical practitioners, clinics, and people seeking a safe abortion.