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Abortion Cases Raise Concerns Over Tech Companies' Role

Nebraska prosecutors relied on Facebook messages to file charges set to go to court later this month and next in a pair of test cases over enlisting tech companies to help punish people for illegal abortions, Slate reports. A Nebraska woman and teenage girl were charged with performing or attempting an abortion on a pregnancy at more than 20 weeks, performing an abortion as a nonlicensed doctor and removing, concealing, or abandoning a dead human body after Facebook turned over their Messenger conversations. People are concerned that they may have the same fate that Jessica Burgess, who was 41, and her 17-year-old daughter, Celeste, had now that Roe v. Wade was overturned. In a Q&A with Slate, Johana Bhuiyan, senior reporter for the Guardian, provided some insight on the role of technology companies in cases.

"Facebook’s response was what every tech company says when I ask them about law enforcement requests, which is: they review the request really closely, they make sure it’s not overly broad, and they only give the information that they are absolutely compelled to give," Bhuiyan said. "Companies don’t really have a lot of leeway to fight these. These are legal subpoenas and warrants, so Facebook handed over this data." Tech companies publish a transparency report about every six months that discloses the number of government requests for data that the company is allowed to disclose, and the share of those requests that the company complied with. The transparency reports are pretty detailed, and Google’s are in the tens of thousands every six months. They get so many legal requests and respond to between 80 and 90% of them with some level of data. "It’s concerning because, one, we have a constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures," Bhuiyan said. "A warrant used to be, 'I’m walking into your house, I’m going to look through the files in your home.' When it comes to data that is stored on tech servers and things like that, there’s very little transparency, because often they come with gag orders or nondisclosures. This is your entire life. It’s not the contents of your desk or the contents of your home. It is every single thing that you do on a day-to-day basis — unless you are better about your privacy settings."


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