- Democratic lawmakers are continuing to call on federal agencies to increase data privacy protection for patients seeking abortions, following the Supreme Court’s decision ending the constitutional right to the procedure.
- Seventy-two Democratic members of Congress sent a letter Wednesday to Lina Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, urging her to use the “full power” of her office to enact safeguards against data brokers collecting and selling data that could be used to prosecute pregnancy-related crimes.
- The letter to the FTC follows one sent Friday by Democrat senators to HHS urging the department to update the HIPAA privacy law to limit when covered entities can share information about abortion services.
In June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and flipped decades of settled precedent. The landmark decision resulted in dozens of states restricting access or criminalizing the procedure. Many patients from states that ban abortion are now looking toward states where the procedure remains legal.
Due to patchwork abortion access and legality, some Republican state legislators have suggested using a person’s location and browsing data to prosecute them for seeking an abortion out of state.
The letter to the FTC cites location data firm SafeGraph, which sold a week’s worth of private location data on people who visited abortion clinics in May for $160. The data included where the people visiting the clinics were from, how long they stayed at the clinic and where they went after the visit.
SafeGraph has since stated it voluntarily stopped selling the information.
But “stronger safeguards must be put in place to prevent abusive data practices that can lead to the investigation or prosecution of those seeking medical services, including abortions,” the letter led by Reps. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, and Norma Torres, D-Calif., reads. “The collection and sale of this information creates a significant danger of substantial harm to the privacy rights of consumers, including safety and health injuries.”
The FTC should immediately investigate such practices, issue warning letters as needed and pursue robust enforcement against illegal acts, the letter urges.
The Democratic lawmakers also want the FTC to review technology practices that surveil people seeking abortions. The letter cites how in Texas, one antiabortion group launched a hotline encouraging citizens to submit tips about people seeking abortions.
In addition, some antiabortion groups have been using geo-fencing technology in fertility apps to target people who visit health clinics with antiabortion messaging online, the letter says.