Federal Legislators Ask Google To Limit Collection Of Location Data Following Leak Of Supreme Court’s Abortion Ruling
from the help-protect-users-from-the-gov't,-says-the-gov't dept
Senator Ron Wyden has never been shy about demanding both the government and the private sector stop doing so much damn spying on their constituents/users. Eleven years ago — long before it became apparent federal agencies were accessing/buying location data from any private party willing to give them access — Wyden was looking to enact laws against these activities.
As more information has continued to make its way to the public domain, Wyden (and others) have remained on top of this issue. Supreme Court precedent — established in the Carpenter case — says law enforcement should obtain a warrant before obtaining historical cell site location data from cell service providers. Federal agencies have taken this decision to mean it’s still ok to purchase location data from data brokers or fire off subpoenas to companies like Google that collect and retain massive amounts of this data. This has resulted in a renewed effort to pass a law establishing a warrant requirement, no matter where the data is sought.
With the Supreme Court apparently willing to criminalize abortion again, location data could be used as “evidence” these “criminals” sought to exercise reproductive rights the Supreme Court has decided the nation as a whole no longer needs to respect. If the warrant obligation seems to be too much of a hurdle for law enforcement, it can always seek the data from Google or buy it from data brokers that harvest it from apps that demand access to location info.
All investigators would need to do to generate probable cause is erect a geofence around family planning services or suspected abortion clinics and ask Google to hand over information that would possibly identify every employee and visitor/customer at these facilities. And this could be done over and over again until anti-abortion legislators are happy enough people have had their lives destroyed for attempting to manage their own lives.
That’s what Ron Wyden and 40 other congressional reps are hoping to prevent. There’s no law being written. Instead, Wyden and his compatriots are asking Google to limit how much information it collects and how long it stores this data.
Google has designed its Android operating system to transmit back to Google location information whenever any app on the phone uses location services, unlike iPhones, which collect and retain far less location information. The company also collects location data from users of Google Maps.
As a result, law-enforcement agencies are able to send so-called “geofence warrants” to Google, demanding the company turn over information about all phones that Google knows were near a particular place at a particular time. MAGA officials could use geofence warrants to target doctors who provide abortions, or identify women who travel out of state to obtain reproductive health care.
“If abortion is made illegal by the far-right Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers, it is inevitable that right-wing prosecutors will obtain legal warrants to hunt down, prosecute and jail women for obtaining critical reproductive health care. The only way to protect your customers’ location data from such outrageous government surveillance is to not keep it in the first place,” they wrote.
No law requires Google to collect and keep records of its customers’ every movement. 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 Americans
using Android devices.
Governments around the nation who may soon be enabled to “do evil” on their own following this presumed SCOTUS ruling. The point raised here for Google’s consideration is “why help them out?” At this point, the leaked ruling is still just a draft, but law enforcement has been relying on Google for location data for years. The impending criminalization of abortion will be just another reason for investigators to keep doing what they’ve been doing, knowing that Google will always have plenty of useful data on hand.