Democrats urge Google to stop collecting location data that could be used to identify abortion seekers

Lawmakers warn that right-wing prosecuters may use company’s location data to ‘hunt down’ women for getting abortions

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 25 May 2022 09:21
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Over 40 US lawmakers have urged Google to stop collecting and retaining location data that could be used to identify people seeking abortions.

“We are concerned that, in a world in which abortion could be made illegal, Google’s current practice of collecting and retaining extensive records of cell phone location data will allow it to become a tool for far-right extremists looking to crack down on people seeking reproductive health care,” 42 Democratic and independent senators and members of Congress said in a letter to Google chief Sundar Pichai.

The letter follows the recently-leaked US Supreme Court draft opinion indicating the Roe v Wade ruling that legalised abortion nationwide nearly 50 years ago is likely to be overturned.

Democrats have condemned the reported decision of the Supreme Court to overturn the constitutional right to safe, legal abortions — a fundamental right that Americans have known for half a century.

If the Supreme Court’s reported decision becomes legal, lawmakers say the consequences will be dire with many states ready to enforce trigger laws that would immediately criminalise abortion.

“Republicans in Congress are already discussing passing a law criminalizing abortion in all 50 states, putting the government in control of women’s bodies,” the letter said.

It pointed out that Google stores the location information histories of hundreds of millions of smartphone users that the company also “routinely shares with government agencies”.

“While Google collects and retains customer location data for various business purposes, including to target online ads, Google is not the only entity to make use of this data,” the letter said, adding that law enforcement officials “routinely obtain” court orders forcing Google to turn over its users’ location information.

The lawmakers argued that Google’s intentional choice “to collect and keep records of its customers’ every movement” is creating a new digital divide in which privacy is a luxury.

“Americans who can afford an iPhone have greater privacy from government surveillance of their movements than the tens of millions of Americans using Android devices,” they said.

“If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will obtain legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute, and jail women for obtaining critical reproductive health care,” the letter noted.

The lawmakers argued that the only way for Google to protect its customers’ location data from “outrageous government surveillance” is to “not keep it in the first place”.

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