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  • Writer's pictureMatt Ferguson

Your personal data in a post-Roe v. Wade world

On June 24th, 2022, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade was a landmark case decided by the Supreme Court in 1973. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of one 'Jane Roe' (Norma McCorvey) that it was unconstitutional for states to make access to abortion unduly restrictive or illegal. The basis for this ruling was that denying access to abortions violated the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically, the Amendment's due process clause. Though Roe later became enshrined in subsequent case law and upheld for nearly fifty years through other judicial challenges, it is no more.

As a consequence, women must now consider data that tech companies are collecting from health apps, such as menstrual cycle tracking apps. In fact, women, their families, and loved ones must now think of the way they use technology for accessing certain medical services in a new light, thanks to the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe.

Hostile governments have historically engaged in dragnet surveillance, wire-tapping phones of political enemies, and hacking the computers and digital services of both foreign adversaries and allies. Tech companies serve as convenient data brokers in this surveillance state. It's no secret your smartphone is a trove of data both for corporate third-parties as well as state and federal governments. When women are in need of a critical medical service, such as abortion care, they must now consider their anonymity when searching for and accessing those services, as well as when communicating with medical professionals. Call it paranoid, but in an age where the Supreme Court can disembowel judicial precedent for basic human rights on a whim, we must take more extraordinary measures in order to protect our online privacy.

So what can you do?

  1. Vet your apps, both on your phone and on your computer. Read the Terms of Service, and if the Terms of Service aren't readily available, demand that the app developer make them available to you. Examine what data are being sent to the app developer as well as to third-party data brokers. Assume that some or all of the data produced by your app may at some point be accessed by state or federal government.

  2. Uninstall apps you don't trust, especially those which contain sensitive medical or personally-identifying information.

  3. Use a VPN (virtual private network) when on public WiFi. Assume that unsecured, public wireless networks are being monitored, potentially by law enforcement or the state. If your traffic is encrypted, your data is much more difficult to analyze or to connect to an individual person.

  4. Use anonymous browsing mode in your web browser of choice. Deny all trackers, cookies, and do your best to disable browser fingerprinting

  5. Use an ad blocker extension for your browser, such as uBlock Origin. Advertisements have been known to bundle in malicious content, such as malware, cryptocurrency mining programs, and ransomware. Advertisements also collect information from your browser when they're allowed to load.

  6. Consider using the Tor Browser for additional anonymity online, such as when researching medical services. The Tor Browser is developed by the Tor Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving people's right to digital anonymity.

This is a tech blog, first and foremost. I don't really relish the thought of mixing in politics; however, this issue goes beyond 'politics' as it concerns human rights. Technology, as you can imagine, regularly intersects with, and runs afoul of, those rights. I also make no reservations in considering this decision by the Supreme Court to be another step toward transforming our country into a dystopian theocracy.

During times like these, it is imperative we do everything we can to fight against the state weaponizing technology to achieve its goal. Hopefully, the tips above help in that cause.

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