Democrats press Google to overhaul data location practices to protect abortion-seekers

Students march to protest against overturning Roe v. Wade, which guarantees the right to abortion access, in New York on May 19, 2022. (Photo by ALEX KENT/AFP via Getty Images)

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More than 40 Democrats sent a letter to Google Tuesday calling on the company to overhaul its collection and retention of location data that prosecutors could use to prosecute people obtaining abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

“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 lawmakers, led by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., write. “The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place.”

The lawmakers request that Google reduce any “unnecessary” collection and retention of user data, lambasting its current practices as “creating a new digital divide, in which privacy and security are made a luxury.”

“Google cannot allow its online advertising-focused digital infrastructure to be weaponized against women,” the lawmakers write.

The letter points to a recent explosion of geofence warrant requests to Google, which force the company to hand over data of anyone who was in a particular area at a given time. Google received 11,554 geofence warrants in 2020, up from 982 in 2018.

The specter of a post-Roe America has added pressure on Congress to pass federal privacy legislation that would prevent invasive data collection. Wyden also has a bill that would prevent law enforcement from purchasing commercial data from third-party brokers to skirt the warrant process.

The Tuesday letter is the biggest expression of concern from lawmakers to date over the threat that troves of user data could pose to abortion-seekers if the Supreme Court overturns the ruling that legalized abortion. Lawmakers have posed similar demands to data brokers found to be selling location data revealing visits to abortion clinics and have questioned the Federal Trade Commission on how it’s upholding the privacy of reproductive data.

Privacy rights group Fight for the Future on Tuesday launched an open letter making similar demands of Google.

Google did not immediately answer a request for comment.

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abortion, data, geofence warrant, Google, Rep. Anna Eshoo, Ron Wyden, surveillance
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