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Meta’s role in US abortion probe rekindles fears

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Earlier this week, media outlets revealed that the social media giant had provided police with private messages that resulted in a mother being charged with helping her daughter have an abortion in Nebraska, US, sparking public outcry. outrage on the web.

Jessica Burgess, 41, is accused of helping her 17-year-old daughter have an abortion. She is the subject of five charges, including one directly related to a law passed in 2010 in this Midwestern state which bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Her daughter faces three counts, including concealment and abandonment of a corpse. Both women pleaded not guilty last week, according to reports.

Questions about privacy

Women’s rights activists warned after the US Supreme Court’s decision to revoke the constitutional right to abortion of the danger posed by the mountains of data accumulated by tech companies on their users and users.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, defended itself on Tuesday, noting that the search warrant did not mention abortion at all and had been issued before the Supreme Court’s flip-flop.

This line of defense seems to imply that if the search warrant had mentioned abortion, the result would have been different. But that’s obviously wrongwrote on Twitter Logan Koepke, a researcher who studies in particular the effect of technology on criminal justice.

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Contacted by Agence France-Presse, the company highlighted its policy of responding favorably to requests from the authorities when the law requires us to.

Abortion restrictions in the state of Nebraska had been enacted long before Roe v. Wade, which has protected access to abortion since 1973. Some 16 other US states also limit, or prohibit, abortions in early pregnancy.

A scenario that could repeat itself

For many, the Nebraska affair will not remain an isolated case.

This will continue to happen to companies that have a lot of data on people in the country and around the world.explains Alexandra Givens, of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Center for Democracy & Technology.

According to her, firms that receive legal requests formulated in the rules have an interest in responding to them.

But companies should at least make sure they demand a full legal process, that warrants are specific and not sweeping, that searches are rigorously worded, and that they warn users so they can try to fight themadds Alexandra Givens.

Police had asked the judge to order Meta not to tell Ms Burgess’s daughter about the search warrant relating to her Facebook posts, citing a risk of destruction or alteration of evidence.

The police officer behind the request told the court that he had started investigating at the end of April followingworries about the possibility that the 17-year-old girl could have given birth prematurely to a stillborn childwhich she and her mother would then have buried together.

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Prioritize encrypted messaging

To ensure that their communications remain out of reach of the authorities, Internet users can for example use encrypted messaging, as noted by activists.

People are using apps from different social networks.

The Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram apps offer end-to-end encrypted messaging.

Photo: Reuters/Dado Ruvic

At Meta, the WhatsApp application provides end-to-end encryption, which means that the company does not have access to the contents of the messages, but this level of confidentiality is not activated by default on Messenger.

The company has never indicated that it will not comply with law enforcement requests when it comes to abortionrecalls Caitlin Seeley George of the NGO Fight for the Future, which defends digital rights.

If Internet users used encrypted messengers, Meta would not even be able to share the conversationsshe adds.

The web giant announced on Thursday that it was starting the test phase for end-to-end encryption by default for its Messenger and Instagram messaging systems and that it was going to roll out the function to all Internet users in 2023. Meta was initially to inaugurate it in 2022.

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