Facebook’s cooperation with US police in abortion case raises ‘new concerns’

Facebook has sparked outrage and raised concerns by cooperating with US police, implying that it could be used to restrict access to procedures. Criticisms increased after news reports showed that the firm handed over the texts of a woman charged with assisting her daughter in getting an abortion.

Jessica Burgess, 41, faces five charges, including violation of a 2010 law that allows abortion up to 20 weeks after fertilisation. Burgess’s daughter faces three charges. Her daughter faces three charges, including one for abandoning a corpse.

During the hearing, the police in Nebraska court asked to not let Burgess’s daughter know about the search warrant as it might lead to destroying of evidence. In court, the police officer said that he began investigating the case in late April when Burgess’s daughter gave birth to a “stillborn” child, which they reportedly buried together.

Also read | American mother and teen daughter charged after illegal abortion

However, Facebook owner Meta, however, defended itself by saying the Nebraska court order didn’t mention “abortion” at all. It further clarified that it was issued before the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v Wade. The firm, in conversation with AFP, pointed to its policy of granting government demands whenever it is required, when queried about handing over the data.

According to Logan Koepe, a researcher who examines how technology affects criminal justice, the statement seems to indicate that the outcome would have been different if the search warrants mentioned abortion. As per tech observers, the Nebraska case won’t be the only case.

Also read | Data Map: How access to Abortion has changed globally

Alexandra Given, CEO of the Centre for Democracy and Technology, said, “This is going to keep happening to companies that have vast amounts of data about people across the country and around the world.” She continued that there are many reasons that compel businesses to cooperate with legal requests and should insist on specific and full legal processes.

Advocates pointed out that a sure way to keep users’ information safe can be by automatically encrypting messages from the government. In Meta-owned WhatsApp, the business has a default setting of end-to-end encryption, which means the company doesn’t have access to information. It’s not a default option in Facebook Messenger.

(With inputs from agencies)


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