Senate Democrats Demand Answers About Tech Companies Sharing Data From People Who Get Abortions
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Fourteen Senate Democrats sent letters Tuesday to two data brokers demanding information about data they’ve distributed related to abortion clinic visits, as the prospect that the Supreme Court could soon overturn Roe v. Wade has sparked new concerns about how patients’ digital data could be used against them to enforce abortion bans.

Key Facts

The senators, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), sent letters to SafeGraph and, following Vice reports that found SafeGraph sold location data of people who visited Planned Parenthood clinics and offered “heat maps” on its website showing where Planned Parenthood patients live.

Calling the reports “appalling,” the lawmakers asked the companies to “immediately account for [their] problematic practices … and guarantee that [they] will eliminate these practices, and others like them, completely and permanently.”

The lawmakers pointed out the “dangers” of how this data could be used, noting that prosecutors can use the information to find and punish people who get abortions and that anti-abortion organizations are already using it to send targeted ads to people when they’re at abortion clinics.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, lawmakers warn the use of such data is “almost certain to escalate,” given that many states are set to outlaw abortion entirely.

The companies’ responses to the concerns “[miss]

SafeGraph has not yet responded to a request for comment, and directed Forbes to an earlier statement saying the company’s maps do not publish people’s exact locations, and that the company removed all Planned Parenthood locations from its maps as part of “an ongoing effort to remove all sensitive places from our system.”

Crucial Quote

SafeGraph’s sale of data and offering data that allowed people “to determine the locations of people seeking abortion services was simply unconscionable, risking the safety and security of women everywhere,” lawmakers wrote.

Chief Critic

Both SafeGraph and deny that their data has been used for any “malicious purposes,” and in a blog post on its website in response to the Vice report, SafeGraph said the data the outlet had flagged was also used for academic research on family planning visits. “We acknowledge that our decision to take down Patterns for family planning centers could negatively impact this valuable research, but we think this is the right decision given the current climate,” the company said.

What To Watch For

The lawmakers gave SafeGraph and a May 31 deadline to answer more questions about its practices, including the scope of how much data the companies gathered, who has used that data and more details on how it’s being removed from their platforms.

Key Background

The likelihood that those seeking abortions could be punished for doing so has gone up as the Supreme Court prepares to rule in the coming weeks in a case on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban and whether states can restrict the procedure. A draft opinion leaked by Politico signals the court is likely to overturn its precedent in Roe v. Wade entirely, calling the 1973 ruling “egregiously wrong” and giving states the freedom to ban abortion. (The ruling is not yet final, and the official opinion will likely be released in June.) If Roe is overturned, the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute projects 26 states will ban abortion, many immediately through “trigger bans” that make performing the procedure a felony punishable by prison time. While abortion bans have so far not criminalized having an abortion—though such measures have already been proposed—abortion rights advocates fear they will, as well as outlaw traveling to other states to get an abortion.

Further Reading

Data Broker Is Selling Location Data of People Who Visit Abortion Clinics (Motherboard)

Location Data Firm Provides Heat Maps of Where Abortion Clinic Visitors Live (Motherboard)

Search histories, location data, text messages: How personal data could be used to enforce anti-abortion laws (CNN)

How to Protect Your Digital Privacy if Roe v. Wade Falls (Wired)

Location data broker SafeGraph stops selling information on visits to abortion providers (CNBC)

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