How Facebook and Google help persecute women who have illegal abortions in the United States


Across the Atlantic, the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade now allows states that wish to ban abortion and make it a crime. Twenty Republican states have rushed into the breach to vote for this ban or initiate the procedures that will lead to it, all accompanied by heavy prison sentences. In this context, local law enforcement is increasingly turning to social media to build cases to prosecute women seeking abortions. We learn that giants such as Facebook or Google willingly lend themselves to the maneuver.

This is for example the case of the Burgess affair in which a woman is accused of having helped her daughter to illegally perform a medical abortion. In this case, the key evidence was provided by Facebook in the form of exchanges of messages about abortive drugs. Facebook was immediately the target of an online protest campaign for collaborating with authorities, to which its lawyers responded that they had no choice but to respond to police demands. However, in the documents submitted, the latter found evidence of a scheme aimed at obtaining prohibited pills in Nebraska.

Web searches and data from scrutinized pharmacies

On the Google side, it is often the queries made by Internet users about abortion that are targeted by the police, in particular those leading to pharmacies that market abortifacient drugs. However, these online pharmacies are required to keep the traceability of their sales. A godsend for investigators responsible for tracking down women who have bought this kind of pill.

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Currently, this subject is the subject of a certain omerta in the United States, because the forces of order, such as the FBI, do not want to reveal the criteria on which they launch their investigations, nor the way in which they exert pressure on Internet players to obtain data.

Respect the law, no more no less

The large web groups are obviously particularly uncomfortable with the subject. “We comply with government requests for user information only when we believe in good faith that the law requires us to do so.explains Meta. In addition, we assess whether a request complies with internationally recognized human rights standards, including due process, privacy, freedom of expression and the rule of law. When we comply with a request, we only produce information that is closely tailored to that request. If we believe a request seems insufficient or too broad, we reject it and fight in court, if necessary. We don’t provide governments with backdoors to access people’s information”.

According to statistics shared by Meta, the company receives some 400,000 requests for access to private data each year and hands them over to the police and the courts in 70% of cases. The firm recalls that on many occasions, these data relate to cases of child abuse, murder, assaults of all kinds, etc. It also ensures that a warrant is required to activate data collection.

Some US lawyers and specialists are calling on users of social networks and media to do everything to protect their privacy themselves by taking these new parameters into account. For some, it remains easier to be indignant at the practices of web giants, who only respect the law, than to attack the police and States on such controversial subjects. This is indeed a more global social issue.

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