Facebook sparked outrage by responding to US police investigating an abortion case, fueling simmering fears that the platform will be a tool to counter the proceeding.
Criticism arose after media reports revealed that the social networking giant had handed over messages to a mother who was criminally accused of having an abortion for her daughter.
Proponents had warned about exactly this sort of thing after the U.S. highest court revoked the national right to abortion in late June, as major tech companies have a wealth of data on user location and behavior.
Jessica Burgess, 41, was accused of helping her 17-year-old daughter abort a pregnancy in the Midwestern US state of Nebraska.
She faces five charges, including one under a 2010 law that allows abortion only up to 20 weeks after conception.
The daughter faces three charges, including one of hiding or leaving a corpse.
Still, Facebook owner Meta defended himself Tuesday by noting that the Nebraska court order “didn’t talk about abortion at all,” and came before the highly divisive Supreme Court decision in June to dismiss Roe v Wade, the case that ruled out the right to abortion in the United States. States.
“That sentence seems to imply that *if* the search warrants mentioned abortion, there would be a different result. But of course that’s not true,” tweeted Logan Koepke, who studies the influence of technology on things like criminal justice.
When asked about handing over the data, the Silicon Valley giant pointed out to AFP its policy of complying with government requests when “the law requires us to do so.”
Nebraska’s restrictions were passed years before Roe was lifted. About 16 states have outright bans or limits in the early weeks of pregnancy in their jurisdictions.
“Unable to release encrypted chats”
For tech world viewers, the Nebraska case certainly won’t be the last.
“This will continue to happen to companies that have massive amounts of data about people across the country and around the world,” said Alexandra Givens, CEO of the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology.
She further noted that if companies receive a duly issued legal request, under a valid law, there are strong incentives for them to want to comply with that request.
“The companies should at the very least ensure that they insist on a full legal process, that warrants are specific and not fishing expedition, searches are interpreted very narrowly, and that they notify users so that users can try to push back,”, adds Givens.
Meta did not provide AFP with the Nebraska court order. The police file asked the judge to order the company not to tell Burgess’ daughter about the search warrant for her Facebook posts.
“I have reason to believe that notifying the subscriber or customer of the issuance of this search warrant could lead to the destruction of or tampering with evidence,” police detective Ben McBride wrote.
He told the court he began investigating “concerns” in late April that Burgess’ daughter had given birth prematurely to a “stillborn child”, which they allegedly buried together.
Proponents noted that aside from not using Meta’s products, a surefire way to keep users’ communications out of the hands of the government would be to encrypt them automatically.
Meta-owned WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption, meaning the company can’t access the information, but that level of privacy protection isn’t the default on Facebook Messenger.
“The company never said it wouldn’t comply with a law enforcement request in an abortion-related situation,” said Caitlin Seeley George, campaign manager at advocacy group Fight for the Future.
“If users could rely on encrypted messages, Meta wouldn’t even be in a position to share conversations,” she added.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)