Technology

Democrats ask Google to stop collecting location data following Supreme Court leak

A group of more than 40 Democrats sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai Tuesday evening urging the company to stop collecting and storing location data out of concern that it could be obtained by prosecutors to target individuals seeking abortions.

“We believe that abortion is health care. We will fight tooth and nail to ensure that it remains recognized as a fundamental right, and that all people in the United States have control over their own bodies,” the members, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), wrote. 

“That said, 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,” they continued.

The leak of a majority decision indicating that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade has amplified concerns about the ways that digital footprints could be used to identify individuals seeking or assisting the termination of a pregnancy.

The letter to Pichai brings up the use of geofence warrants, a technique where law enforcement agencies request tech companies to turn over all data on devices that have passed through a certain area during a certain period.

Geofence warrants, also known as reverse-location warrants, have been issued to track Black Lives Matter protesters and to investigate robberies. Google received more than 10,000 geofence warrants in 2020, the letter notes.

Law enforcement would have a much easier time obtaining the court-issued warrants needed to place those requests if the Supreme Court does ultimately strike down Roe V. Wade, given that over 20 states are already preparing to ban abortion.

“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 lawmakers wrote. “The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place.”

The Hill has reached out to Google for comment on the letter.

Tags abortion Anna Eshoo Geofences Google location data Reproductive Healthcare Roe v. Wade Ron Wyden Sundar Pichai

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