Protecting People from Digital Surveillance
March 8, 2023
Many rely on the internet to access healthcare, including reproductive or gender-affirming care. The internet has opened many doors for folks: if you have internet connectivity, you have a space to research, schedule appointments, seek community support, and more.
But with the internet comes a data trail, and an ever-present digital surveillance apparatus has developed. Companies can follow those data trails back to the people who, say, browsed the internet to find an abortion fund or obtain hormone replacement therapy. And, terrifyingly yet unsurprisingly, this is exactly what states with have anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation on the books have asked companies to do. Hayley Tsukayama notes that between 2018 and 2020, “Google alone received more than 5,700 reverse demands” from those states, targeting people for having an abortion or seeking gender-affirming care.
This “reverse search” is also known as a “reverse warrant” or “reverse demand.” Normal warrants seek information about a particular person: Where have they been? What keywords did they search online? By contrast, reverse warrants seek to identify those particular people through their location or searches. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) writes, these warrants are “already used to target protestors,” and they “can be used to conduct broad fishing expeditions for those who are seeking needed healthcare.”
In response, on February 13, 2023, California Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced AB 793, a bill to prevent unconstitutional searches of people’s data. The bill, co-sponsored by EFF, the ACLU, and If/When/How, aims to protect people in California who have, for example, “spent time near a California abortion clinic or searched for information about gender-affirming care online.” By taking these reverse warrants off the table for law enforcement, Bonta and others hope to ensure California is a “refuge for people seeking or providing abortions or gender-affirming care.”
We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation give our full support to AB 793. All people, everywhere, deserve to exercise their human rights to health and privacy. If you’d like to support the efforts behind enacting AB 793, click here!