The world changed for many people on Friday, June 24 when the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade. Although the opinion had been leaked two months prior, the ruling was a gut punch nonetheless for millions of women—and none moreso than the hundreds of thousands who were already considering an abortion.
With the loss of Constitutional protections and trigger laws quickly kicking in throughout the country, getting an abortion now is both more complicated and, legally at the very least, more dangerous. There has already been a surge in demand for Plan B pills that’s so big that CVS and Walmart have begun rationing the emergency contraceptive pills.
Several states are already threatening to use the ruling as a springboard, targeting doctors who perform abortions for prosecution—and some worry that patients could be targeted next.
HIPAA laws, which normally shield your medical information, do not apply when it comes to abortion. There’s an exception in the regulations that compels health providers to share data for law-enforcement purposes, such as a court order, subpoena, discovery request, or summons. And many apps women use have poor data privacy, which could be used against them.
“Lawmakers will likely pressure police and prosecutors to use all of the tracking tools they have to target health providers, pregnant people, and anyone helping them to access care,” wrote the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) in its “Pregnancy Panopticon” report. “And with all mass surveillance, there will be countless bystanders targeted, too, those who will be jailed because of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and inaccurate data. This is a bleak forecast for the future, but there are still steps that providers, lawmakers, and members of the public can take to protect pregnant people from this looming surveillance state, if only we act now.”
If you’re in a state where abortion is no longer legal, here are a few steps you can take to safeguard your information.
- As you’ve likely heard widely reported, it’s likely time to delete any period tracking apps. Many sell user data and could, potentially, put you at risk if authorities decide to prosecute patients. Some, such as Euki, promise not to store user information, but that’s still putting a lot of faith in a company you don’t know. Also, send a data deletion request to any you have previously used.
- Lock down your phone if you are traveling somewhere like a clinic or a rally. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends getting a burner that’s not connected to your normal cell account, but if that’s not possible, turn off ad identifiers and review the permissions of other apps you use to see how much data they’re gathering. Also, consider turning off the “Find My” feature on your Apple device (or any sort of location sharing). Better yet, just leave the phone at home, since your cell provider can still ping or track the phone when it’s turned off.
- If you do buy some medicine or see a specialist for a reproductive health issue, pay in cash. (Pay cash for the burner phone, also, if you get one.) Anything paid with a credit or debit card can be traced. Cash is private, as long as the transaction is under $10,000. (Crypto is not a wise option as it, too, can be traced by law enforcement officials.)
- If you’re doing online research to find an abortion provider, but live in a state where they’re illegal, your search history will record this. Consider using a VPN and the TOR Browser, an open-source browser that anonymizes searches. Incognito modes on standard browsers are insufficient, as your ISP still might be able to identify the sites you visit.
- Limit who you tell. This includes your doctor and friends (who might have different stances on abortion than you believe and could tell authorities). If/When/How, a nonprofit specializing in reproductive justice, tells The Washington Post that a miscarriage and a self-managed abortion using pills will look identical to most health-care providers.
These are, of course, far from all-encompassing steps. Paranoia is not an unreasonable approach for those seeking to terminate a pregnancy these days with laws changing so fast. It makes a hard decision a lot more difficult, but avoiding that surveillance could prevent future issues.
“Anti-surveillance protections will never be a complete substitute for the reproductive rights Roe and Casey safeguarded, but they are the most impactful steps that abortion supporters can take,” says STOP.