The case caused a stir. Because of Facebook, a mother and her daughter have been charged in the United States. Police accuse Jessica Burgess, a 41-year-old American, of helping her 17-year-old daughter have an abortion in Nebraska. The mother is the subject of five charges, one of which is directly related to a law passed in 2010 in this Midwestern state, and which bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Her daughter faces three counts, including concealment and abandonment of a corpse. Both women pleaded not guilty last week, according to reports.
If these two women were charged by the police, it is because Facebook participated in the police investigation and provided the agents with private messages exchanged by the two women on the social network. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, defended itself on Tuesday, noting that the court’s warrant “did not mention abortion at all” and was issued before the Supreme Court’s about-face. The company also highlighted its policy of responding favorably to requests from the authorities when “the law requires us to do so”.
“It will continue to happen”
This line of defense “seems to imply that *if* the search warrant had mentioned abortion, the result would have been different. But that’s obviously not true, ”tweeted Logan Koepke, a researcher who studies the impact of technology on criminal justice in particular. Like him, women’s rights activists have warned of the danger posed by the mountains of data accumulated by tech companies on their users.
For many observers, the Nebraska affair will not remain an isolated case. “It will continue to happen to companies that have a lot of data on people in the country and around the world,” explains Alexandra Givens, of the NGO Center for Democracy & Technology. According to the latter, firms faced with legal requests formulated in the rules have an interest in responding to them.
But “companies should at least make sure they demand a full legal process, that warrants are specific and not sweeping, that searches are rigorously worded, and that users are warned so they can try to fight them.” , adds Alexandra Givens. “The company has never indicated that it will not comply with law enforcement requests when it comes to abortion,” recalls Caitlin Seeley George of the NGO Fight for the Future, which defends digital rights.