WASHINGTON — Democratic representatives are widening their scrutiny into the role of tech companies in collecting the personal data of people who may be seeking an abortion, as lawmakers, regulators and the Biden administration grapple with the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling last month ending the constitutional protections for abortion.
In a new volley of congressional letters, six House Democrats have asked the top executives of Amazon’s cloud-service network and major cloud provider Oracle about the companies’ handling of consumers’ location data from mobile phones, and what steps they have taken or planned to protect the privacy rights of individuals seeking information on abortion.
The decision by the court’s conservative majority to overturn Roe v. Wade has resulted in strict limits or total bans on abortion in more than a dozen states. About a dozen more states are set to impose additional restrictions. Privacy experts say that could make women vulnerable because their personal data could be used to monitor pregnancies and shared with police or sold to vigilantes. Online searches, location data, text messages and emails, and even apps that track periods could be used to prosecute people who seek an abortion — or medical care for a miscarriage — as well as those who assist them, experts say.
Privacy advocates are watching for possible new moves by law enforcement agencies in affected states — serving subpoenas, for example, on tech companies such as Google, Apple, Bing, Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp, services like Uber and Lyft, and internet service providers including AT&T , Verizon, T-Mobile and Comcast.
“Data collected and sold by your company could be used by law enforcement and prosecutors in states with aggressive abortion restrictions,” the House Democrats, led by Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts, said in the letter. “Additionally, in states that empower vigilantes and private actors to sue abortion providers, this information can be used as part of judicial proceedings.