Facebook criticized for providing messages about illegal abortion in Nebraska to justice

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Even before the US Supreme Court’s decision to revoke abortion rights in the United States, Facebook provided police with data proving that a mother helped her daughter have an abortion in the state of Nebraska, revealed American media. The story sparked a wave of outrage, seen as an example of what could happen in conservative states.

This is a precedent that sends shivers down the spine of abortion rights advocates in the United States: Meta, the parent company of Facebook, participated in a police investigation in the American state of Nebraska and provided the messages between an American woman who had an abortion and her mother… before the revocation of Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed until June 24 the right to abortion in the country. The analysis exchanges to a direct evidence service for further investigation by the police.

The 41-year-old mother is accused of helping her daughter, then 17, to have an abortion. She is the subject of five charges. Her daughter is being prosecuted in particular for hiding and abandoning a corpse. Both pleaded not guilty, according to local newspaper Norfolk Daily News.

After the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to abortion, women’s rights activists expressed fears that the data released by the tech giants could be used to prosecute their users who had abortions. .

According to Meta, the mandate “does not mention abortion at all”

Meta is, however, one of many companies – with Netflix, Disney, Twitter and Tesla – which had said it wanted to pay for the travel of employees who wanted to have an abortion in another state.

At the end of June, the CEO of Meta Mark Zuckerberg had however assured during a meeting that “protecting the privacy of people” was “particularly important now [avec] the Supreme Court’s decision”…after asking its employees not to discuss abortion in the workplace. But according to Motherboard, the company had not said whether or not it provided data to police investigations into the abortion. ‘abortion.

Facebook’s parent company defended itself on Tuesday, August 10, noting that the Nebraska court mandate “did not mention abortion at all”. In a statement posted on Twitter, the company adds that the legal request was issued “before the Supreme Court’s decision”. Contacted by AFP, the company highlighted its policy of responding favorably to requests from the authorities when “the law requires it”.

“These tech giants have provided an untold amount of sensitive data about each and every one of us,” according to Jesse Lehrich, co-founder of Accountable Tech. “They will dutifully comply with subpoena requests like this in a post-Roe world.” A position that “transforms their products into weapons that will be brandished against their own users,” he added in an interview with the New York Post.

>>> Read also: United States: how personal data could be used to track illegal abortions

Messages used for a second search

For the conservative Midwestern state, abortion was illegal because performed after 20 weeks of gestation and without the participation of a doctor. These restrictions had been enacted long before the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court.

The initial messages obtained by authorities then served as the basis for a second search, according to documents obtained by Vice. Thirteen laptops and smartphones were then seized: in total, 24 GB of data including images, messages and web history of their phones, were used.

For many observers, this case is not an isolated case.

According to Jake Laperruque, deputy director of surveillance at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital rights think tank, “Tech companies that store large amounts of exchanges and data will continue to face this situation,” with more and more state warrants prosecuting abortion-related crimes.

“If companies don’t want to find themselves repeatedly transmitting data for abortion surveys, they need to rethink their practices around data collection, storage and encryption,” he added during the interview. an interview with the American channel NBC.

According to his NGO, “companies should at least make sure they demand a full legal process, that warrants are specific and not sweeping the net, that searches are carried out and avoid users so that they can try to fight them” .

Data stored without security

Because Meta saves most of the data provided to users in an open manner, in clear text and without encryption for the main part of the exchanges: if the company wants or is forced to, all information is easily accessible. And so far, Meta has consistently complied with requests from the authorities. Unlike the WhatsApp application, which is encrypted end-to-end, the company can access the content of messages exchanged on Facebook Messenger.

“The company has never indicated that it does not comply with requests from law enforcement when it comes to abortion,” recalls Caitlin Seeley George of the NGO Fight for the Future, which defends digital rights. “If users were using encrypted messaging, Meta wouldn’t even be able to share conversations,” she told AFP.

>>> To read also: in Florida, a synagogue asserts religious freedom to defend abortion

Posts offering suppressed pills

This isn’t the first time Meta’s services have been pinned. On Monday July 8, two American senators had asked Facebook and Instagram to clarify their policy after these platforms deleted publications offering to send abortion pills.

Elected Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren expressed concern over the “censorship” adopted, they say, by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram: “Reports have shown that many posts providing information about access to legal voluntary termination of pregnancy (IVG) services have been withdrawn, often a few minutes after they were put online”.

According to Meta spokesman Andy Stone, it was an “example of improper application” of a policy that says it is illegal to “buy, sell, trade, give or request drugs on its networks. social”. “Contents that refer to the availability and accessibility of prescription drugs are permitted,” he detailed, saying the error was being “corrected” at the end of June.

The trial of the two Nebraska residents is scheduled for October.


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