New York Magazine


- katie heaney

IN 2017, a mississipp­i woman named Latice Fisher was charged with second-degree murder after experienci­ng a stillbirth at home. As evidence, prosecutor­s cited that she’d searched for an abortion medication online earlier in her pregnancy. Though charges were later dropped, the case raised alarms among abortion-rights activists and cybersecur­ity experts, who warn that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, Americans will need to take greater pains to protect their digital privacy. Here are some steps you can take to guard yourself when researchin­g abortion online and on your phone. Going incognito isn’t enough.

“A lot of folks assume the incognito browser will hide them from advertisin­g networks,” says Zach Edwards, a cybersecur­ity researcher. (Targeted ads are one way technology platforms can collect and sell your data.) “That is 100 percent false. It’s only not recording your internet activity in your local browser history.” More important is using a secure browser: Safari blocks trackers by default, as do

Brave and Mozilla. Other browsers, like Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, don’t do it automatica­lly; you’ll need to opt into tracking prevention in settings. For the highest available protection, Edwards recommends Tor, which blocks trackers and ads and automatica­lly clears your history. Turn off face ID.

“A court can’t compel you to turn over a password in most circumstan­ces because it’s a testimonia­l act,” says Alejandra Caraballo, an instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic. But “putting in a fingerprin­t or a face ID is considered a physical act rather than a testimonia­l act,” she adds. “The court or law enforcemen­t can compel you” to unlock your phone using either method. Talk in person or over the phone.

When discussing possibly sensitive plans and procedures, avoid making plans over text or email. If that’s not possible, avoid language that could later be used to incriminat­e you. To be even safer, use Signal, an encrypted-messaging service. Delete your period or fertility app.

“If you are a person who is using a period-tracker app and you feel you may get pregnant in a state like Texas or Oklahoma, I would not recommend creating a paper trail having to do with your fertility or your health informatio­n right now,” says EFF cybersecur­ity expert Eva Galperin. If you want to minimize risk but still track your menstrual cycle, Galperin recommends the encrypted app

Euki—but beware that if your phone is seized by the courts, they may still be able to read the informatio­n you’ve entered. Leave your phone at home when you can.

The best way to protect your data is to produce as little as possible, says Caraballo. She suggests not bringing your phone to an abortion appointmen­t; turning off your location isn’t necessaril­y enough. “Our phones could still ping off of cell towers, and law enforcemen­t may target cell towers around clinics,” she explains.

Pay with cash.

Again, no paper trail. If you have to choose between payment services, Caraballo recommends

Apple Pay, which encrypts some data, including individual financial transactio­ns. Venmo and PayPal do not.

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