Wyden, Colleagues Blast Data Brokers for Collecting and Selling Location Data of People Who Visit Abortion Clinics
Sale of data was “simply unconscionable, risking the safety and security of women everywhere”
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden today with colleagues blasted companies for collecting and selling the cellphone-based location data of people who visit abortion clinics and risking the safety of anyone seeking access to abortion services.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the senators are demanding answers about the companies’ data collection practices and calling on them to create a complete and permanent ban on these and similar practices.
“Anti-abortion activists have already used location data to send targeted anti-choice ads to women’s phones while they are sitting in abortion clinics… Anti-abortion politicians in Republican-led states have placed bounties on women who receive abortions and doctors that provide them and even proposed laws that would punish pregnant people for traveling to seek abortions out of state. Anti-abortion prosecutors have used search and message data to criminally charge abortion seekers,” Wyden and the senators wrote in letters to data brokers SafeGraph and Placer.ai. “These and other practices targeting women seeking necessary health care services are almost certain to escalate if Roe v. Wade is gutted and abortion is criminalized instantly in states across the nation. Under these circumstances, the decision to sell data that allowed any buying customer to determine the locations of people seeking abortion services was simply unconscionable, risking the safety and security of women everywhere.”
Wyden was the first member of Congress to sound the alarm about how private data would be weaponized if Roe is overturned. He has introduced the Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act to prevent Republican prosecutors from buying up private data to prosecute pregnant people who researched and/or traveled to abortion clinics. He also supports strong commercial privacy legislation that would limit how location information, web searches and other personal data is collected, stored and shared by corporations.
The senators noted that SafeGraph and Placer.ai’s sale of abortion clinic data is especially dangerous, even by the low standards of the largely unregulated data-broker market. The companies collect incredibly precise location and time data from millions of Americans’ phones. The data can reveal where people who visit abortion clinics came from, where they go afterwards, and even where they live. And anyone can buy the companies’ data — or in Placer.ai’s case, access some of the data simply by creating a free account — including individuals, corporations, and governments who want to learn who is seeking abortion care and where they are.
Given the grave threats to abortion rights and women’s and health care providers’ safety if Roe v. Wade is gutted, the senators are calling on the two companies to give detailed answers to their questions about the companies’ disturbing practices by May 31, 2022.
The letter was led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Along with Wyden, the letter was joined by Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif.
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