Data privacy and international influence in a post-Roe world
In a historic and far-reaching decision, the Supreme Court of the Unites States (SCOTUS) officially reversed Roe v. Wade on 24 June, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion no longer exists.
This decision comes at a time when the UN sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that a staggering 45% of all abortions around the world are unsafe, making the procedure a leading cause of maternal death. The UNFPA said that it feared that more unsafe abortions will occur around the world if access becomes more restricted.
As such, the SCOTUS verdict could have a ripple effect on reproductive rights around the world.
Despite abortion being legalised in India, a woman's right and agency over her body have never been prioritized. On social media, when a section of people called India more "progressive" than the US for allowing women to seek abortion, the reality paints a grim picture. Many women revealed that the process is painful and hostile. Further, they are even called 'immoral' and forced to feel guilty for undergoing a process that may even save their life.
Although the process is legalized in India, the medical procedure can only be performed after the discretion of the doctor. All women mandatorily need the approval of one doctor if they want to terminate pregnancy up to 20 weeks. But women who are survivors of sexual assault, suffering from a mental illness, or physically challenged can terminate the pregnancy up to 24 weeks with the approval of two doctors.
Moreover, in the wake of the verdict passed by SCOTUS, privacy experts are concerned about how data collected from period-tracking apps could potentially be used to prosecute anyone seeking, considering, or providing an abortion.
Millions of people use apps to track their menstrual cycle. Flo, one of the most popular tracking app, has amassed 43 million active users. Another app Clue, claims 12 million monthly active users.
The personal health data stores in these apps is among the most private information a person can share. The app can show when a person's period starts and stops, and also provide crucial information regarding pregnancy.
That has made privacy experts worried about how this data can be misused by or even sold to third parties, including governments. For example, search histories can be tracked to identify who has been trying to find information related to abortion. This means users of these apps could be at risk of government surveillance, potentially paving way to an onslaught of abortion-related charges.
In response to these apprehensions, Flo has developed a new 'anonymous mode' which will let users remove personal data like names, email IDs, and technical identifiers from their profiles. A similar app, Bellabeat, will launch a private key encryption feature, allowing its users to render their own data unreadable with access to their personalized key.
Further, Google will also delete location data showing when users visit an abortion clinic. Google is the first tech company to publicly say how it will handle user data in response to concerns over the court ruling, given how the data can be weaponized by law enforcement.