How We Can Digitally Defend Ourselves in a Post-Roe World

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As states push abortion out of reach and criminalize care, people seeking abortion care are rightfully raising alarms about the unprecedented access the government – and private entities – have to our digital lives.

Make no mistake: Expanded criminalization of abortion will become an increasingly attractive target for prosecutors and police to use against more and more people. And the lack of strong digital privacy protections in our country will have profound implications on all of this, particularly for Black and Brown communities.

So while we and our coalition partners continue to fight in the courts, statehouses, and Congress to defend these rights, we also want you to be equipped with the facts. You’ll notice this is a longer email than usual – with the hope that you can more easily save, forward, and refer back to this practical information whenever you need it.

Here’s what to know about the landscape of digital privacy and reproductive freedom right now – and most importantly, how to better protect yourself, your communities, and your data.

First, some facts:

  • Law enforcement has a long history of abusing the abundance of digital data we produce each day. People who seek abortion care will now have to contend with a massive digital surveillance system that could be used against them.
  • This is not a hypothetical threat either: In 2017, an online search for abortion medication was used to charge a woman with second-degree murder. In 2015, a woman’s text messages about ordering abortion medication contributed to her conviction.
  • Law enforcement agencies are already using invasive tools like geofence warrants. Geofence warrants direct companies like Google to hand over data on every user whose phone was near a specific location – which overzealous prosecutors could use on an abortion clinic or doctor’s office.
  • Reverse keyword search warrants also evade constitutional checks on police surveillance by compelling tech companies to hand over data about any users who searched for particular words at a specific time – imagine targeting people who searched for “abortion” or “pregnancy.”
  • Carrying a smartphone and accessing the internet is part of our daily routine and it’s chilling to think that seeking the healthcare we need may lead to us being tracked or monitored by police and the government. That’s why it’s urgent to ban these warrants. We’re working with our affiliates and partners to introduce local legislation to prevent law enforcement from making these types of overly broad requests.

Given how invasive modern technology has become, here are some actions you can take immediately to improve digital security and reduce your risks when seeking an abortion:

  • Use a privacy-first search engine, like DuckDuckGo
  • Chat about plans on encrypted apps with disappearing messages
  • Turn off your Google location and search history
  • Turn off phone location services
  • Other things to consider are using software like Tor, which enables anonymous web browsing, or adding two-factor authentication to all of your accounts
  • You can also add another layer of privacy by creating anonymous emails or phone numbers when accessing abortion care

No one should have to live in fear of constant surveillance when making decisions about our health care – so please star, share, and use this email’s information as a resource however needed.

And most importantly, know that in the face of the breathtaking and authoritarian attacks on our bodily autonomy right now, we at the ACLU will not stop fighting to protect your fundamental freedoms.

Not now, not ever.

Thank you for being with us in the fight,

The ACLU Team