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Over 40 lawmakers warn Google its location tracking could be used to target abortion seekers

'If abortion is made illegal, it is inevitable," data will be used to prosecute women, lawmakers said.

 

Jacob Seitz

Tech

Posted on May 24, 2022   Updated on May 25, 2022, 1:18 pm CDT

Over 40 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter to Google urging the tech giant to stop collecting location data on its users, arguing the data could be used to identify and possibly punish women seeking abortions.

In the letter sent Tuesday to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet Inc., lawmakers expressed concern over the company’s collection of location data. 

“If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will obtain legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute, and jail women for obtaining critical reproductive health care,” the letter said. “The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place.”

If the Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision—as a leaked opinion earlier this month suggested—pregnancies could be surveilled by law enforcement and data could be obtained by right-wing vigilantes. 

The lawmakers say that right-wing activists and prosecutors could use “geofence” warrants to obtain data on women seeking abortions or reproductive healthcare. A geofence warrant is issued by a court and allows law enforcement to search a database to find all active mobile devices within a certain area. In 2020 alone, Google received 11,554 geofence warrants, up from 8,396 in 2019 and 982 in 2018. 

“If abortion is made illegal, it is inevitable that prosecutors will use geofence orders and Google’s location data to hunt down, prosecute, and jail people for obtaining critical abortion care,” Fight For the Future, a digital advocacy group, said in a statement. “The only way to protect Americans’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is for Google not to keep it in the first place.”

Alphabet did not respond to a request for comment.


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*First Published: May 24, 2022, 5:08 pm CDT