Lawmakers ask Google to stop tracking people to protect abortion rights

Democrats call on Google's Sundar Pichai to stop collecting and retaining customer location data that could lead to the identification and prosecution of people seeking abortions.

In a letter, 42 senators and members of Congress ask Google to "promptly reform data collection and retention practices" ahead of the anticipated reversal of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court, ruling that a pregnant woman's liberty to have an abortion is protected by the Constitution of the United States.

"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," lawmakers said.

If the landmark 1973 court ruling is overturned, as the leaked Supreme Court draft suggests, it will be up to individual states to decide whether they want to ban abortion or not. The anticipated decision raises concerns about privacy and the potential prosecution of people choosing to have an abortion.

According to the letter, law enforcement officials routinely obtain court orders forcing Google to turn over its customers' location information, including dragnet "geofence" orders demanding data about everyone who was near a particular location at a given time.

"In fact, according to data published by Google, one-quarter of the law enforcement orders that your company receives each year are for these dragnet geofence orders; Google received 11,554 geofence warrants in 2020. No law requires Google to collect and keep records of its customers' every movement," the letter reads.

It also credited Google for being one of the first companies in America to insist on a warrant before disclosing location data to law enforcement.

The letter points out differences between Google’s and Apple’s data collection policies.

"Apple has shown that it is not necessary for smartphone companies to retain invasive tracking databases of their customers' locations. Google's intentional choice to do so is creating a new digital divide, in which privacy and security are made 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," lawmakers said.

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