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Roe vs Wade: The United States Supreme Court And The Big New Risks To Your Privacy

The recent Supreme Court ruling to overturn the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling significantly impacts the interpretation of Liberty and Privacy. ...

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To say the Roe vs Wade abortion argument is a highly charged, controversial and emotionally sensitive issue with severe privacy implications in the United States is a massive understatement.

In 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jane Roe and agreed that anti-abortion laws violated women’s constitutional right to liberty and privacy under the 14th Amendment. They decreed that States could no longer ban abortion and that such bans were illegal and unconstitutional.

The recent Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe vs Wade has sent shock waves around the world, impacting both the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements.

If you’re here for a story about women’s right to abortion, I regret that there is nothing I can say that will ever have a hope of intelligently contributing to that conversation. Instead, this is a story that examines the significance of the Supreme Court’s change in the interpretation of Liberty and Privacy and how it will have an impact on each and everyone of us, regardless of partisanship.

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Political and Ideological Partisanship - My Disclaimer

For the sake of full transparency, you should know that I lack the experience, knowledge or education to make an informed argument or pick a side in the abortion debate. I recognize that abortion is a highly charged, controversial and emotionally sensitive issue in America and there is nothing I can possibly say that will intelligently contribute and add value to the conversation.

However, it is my goal is to take a non-partisan approach to describing the privacy implications of Roe vs Wade for both sides, and what can be done to protect our privacy as we move forward into the future.

What Is Roe vs Wade?

In 1970, Norma McCorvey became pregnant and wanted an abortion. But to do so in Texas, the state in which she lived, abortion was illegal unless the process of carrying the baby through to birth would put the mother’s own life in certain danger. Having no money to travel outside the state, let alone wanting to risk a botched operation, Norma decided to sue Henry Wade, the Texas District Attorney at the time.

Norma, as Jane Roe (an alternative of Jane Doe), argued that the ban on abortion violated women’s 14th Amendment right to liberty and privacy.

In January of 1973, the United States Supreme Court agreed with Jane Roe. The court ruled that a woman’s right to an abortion was Constitutionally protected by her right to privacy and liberty under the 14th Amendment. They issued a decision that States could no longer ban abortions, and that such bans were illegal and unconstitutional.

The ruling affected forty-six states in which abortions were previously illegal. The ruling was also the catalyst for the start of both the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice movements.

Pro-Lifers argue that an unborn baby has the same right to life as any other born person and that governments should work to protect and enforce that right.

On the other side, Pro-Choicers argue that an unborn baby is not a person and therefore not entitled to the same rights as a born person, and that a woman should have the right to choose what she wants to do with her body without fear of the government intervening.

Since the 1973 decision, abortion has become a global issue with many countries around the world creating either pro or anti abortion laws.

The Right To Liberty and Privacy

As it was orginally written, the pre-1973 Texas anti-abortion law was too broad and violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment guaranteeing liberty, and therefore privacy.

It was argued that an unmarried man with an unwanted child was better equipped, and better able to survive and earn a living in society than an unmarried woman with an unwanted child. An unwed mother faced many difficulties, stigma, psychological harm, mental and physical health issues, stress, and insurmountable burdens in caring for a child when unable to do so.

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The Texas law violated women’s right to liberty and it was the very right to liberty that protected the right to personal privacy.

What Does The Overturning Of Roe vs Wade Mean?

The overturning of Roe vs Wade brings an immediate end to 50 years of federal protection of the right to abortion. Instead, individual States will be empowered to create and enforce their own abortion laws. It is anticipated that 26 States will pass new laws banning abortions, making them illegal. Thirteen of those States have “Trigger Laws”, meaning the change in abortion laws will take place immediately.

Women who seek an abortion will have to travel to States where abortion is legal. In addition, they will have to find doctors and clinics in those States who are willing to perform an abortion.

The immediate and most obvious privacy implications are the travel and associated documentation itself, providing email, telephone and other contact information across State lines, and providing personal and private medical information and data to those clinics in those States.

Depending on a number of factors, clinics might be required to register and record operations and medical records with State or Federal authorities including those of the patient’s originating State, where such operations may now be illegal. 

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Such reporting could be made a matter of public record, exposing women to embarrassment, harassment, discrimination or violence.

This could make a clinic and a patient vulnerable to so-called legal surveillance, further exposing both to criminal prosecution. Doctors and clinics could face criminal charges for performing, assisting, or even consulting on an abortion even if they’re located in a legal State. The cross-state persecution and prosecution of both clinics and patients will soon have to be tested.

Both Pro-Live and Pro-Choice activists could also be exposed to escalating violence or harassment at the hands of opposing activists.

The impact of Roe vs Wade on personal privacy and security is far reaching, extending to healthcare laws and regulations, digital privacy, medical privacy, insurance regulations and even employment regulations. There is the potential for this change in privacy regulation to impact other life styles such as those of the LGBQTIA+ communities, gay marriage, or contraception.

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How Does This Affect Personal Privacy And Privacy Rights, And What Are The Major Risk Factors?

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At this moment, we do not know the full extent of the impact on personal privacy rights and the major risk factors. If historical past behaviors are an indicator of future behaviors, we can almost bank on there being a number of overreaches and legal tests. The immediate victims will be the women and activists who argue for or against abortion.

What’s to stop law enforcement from requesting medical records, especially those related to abortion and sexuality? And where will some of this information come from?

Big tech is already tracking, monitoring and reporting digital behaviors and activities to government, law enforcement, and marketers. Our web activities are tracked every second by our ISPs, search engines, browsers and telephone companies. And those are the agencies we know of. Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA invisibly tracks every American on the continent.

During the course of an investigation, police can and often search phones and phone data. Homeland Security searches electronic devices and communications. Marketers and advertisers have unfettered access to our private digital data. Essential apps track and log our DNA, medical records, genealogy, banking records, employment records and more.

Location services and location tracking make it easy for maps to work and help us find popular restaurants. But they also reveal our travel patterns and behaviors down to a square inch. Not to mention that they can be cross referenced to our friends, family and colleagues. This isn’t just about putting ourselves at risk, but exposing our friends and family to risk too.

Deleted data is never really deleted. Unencrypted data is recoverable and could possibly reveal requests made to clinics or about clinics. Deleted unencrypted data can reveal personal and private information including our names, medical records, locations, contact information and so much more.

The Consequences Of Losing Your Personal Privacy Protections

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The inevitable consequences of losing one’s privacy are not good. On the far end of the spectrum there is a risk of being fined or imprisoned as a criminal. More immediately, there could be a loss or termination of employment as we saw with the government vaccination mandates. Records could be made available and accessible to employers or potential employers, or be used by insurers to deny health insurance or care services.

Official records stored with the city, state, or federal government could be made public, resulting in stigmatization or harassment.

Travel outside of State boundaries could be restricted. Bank accounts and personal properties could be seized and frozen as recently witnessed in Canada with the trucker’s Freedom Convoy.

And what of future implications or consequences that have yet to be decided?

How To Prevent Your Personal Privacy From Being At Risk

An active vigilance is your best defense for protecting your privacy. You can never let your guard down, nor can you afford to get lazy or give up. Privacy is a basic fundamental human right. But it can be easily lost.

1 – Keep your regular day-to-day life separate from your private life. Do not allow the two to mix or become entangled.

If you have the financial means, use two different computers. One for regular every day activities and the other for those parts of your life that should and must remain private. If you don’t have a second computer, use a different browser for your private and sensitive activities.

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The TOR browser offers the maximum level of privacy protection available. However, some find it more difficult or cumbersome to use. As of this writing, the best and easiest browser to use for maximum privacy is the Brave browser, followed by the FireFox browser.

Be sure to set your browser’s privacy settings to Maximum Privacy. Set the browser cookies and cache to automatically delete everything when the browser is closed.

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2 – Invest in a burner phone

A burner phone sounds very Jason Borne or James Bond. But it’s simply a cheap, non-smart flip phone that you can pick up at your local Walmart for under a hundred dollars. A $15/mo pay-as-you-go SIM card is all that’s needed to make it work. Register the phone and SIM card under a fake name and address.

The burner phone should be used for all of your privacy related issues such as booking appointments, making inquiries, or planning events and gatherings.

Should you ever find yourself in a troubling situation, the burner phone can be thrown away and replaced.

3 – Ditch the smart phone or tame your apps.

Your smart phone is your privacy enemy. It’s constantly collecting and reporting data without your knowledge, control or sometimes even your consent! Tim Horton’s was recently exposed for collecting highly sensitive app user data without their permission even when the app was turned off.

Review the privacy settings of all installed apps and make a decision as to whether you can trust them. Most apps cannot be trusted.

Ad serving and ad tracking is a major privacy issue. By default, ad delivery services are turned on and you will need to turn them off. Ad delivery and tracking technologies can be used to personally identify you with 99% accuracy. To turn off and disable ad tracking:

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Google devices: Settings > Privacy > Ads > “Delete advertising ID” or “Opt out of Ads Personalization”

Apple devices: Settings > Privacy > Tracking > disable tracking on each and every app; set “Allow apps to Request to Track” to Off

Apple devices: Settings > Privacy > Apple Advertising > turn off “Personalized Ads”

Turn off location data services including Maps and “Find my device …”. These services can be used to track and monitor your movements.

Use a strong numeric Passcode to lock your phone. Do not use biometric, fingerprints, or facial recognition to lock and unlock the phone. These conveniences are major privacy issues and can fall into the wrong hands such as law enforcement, government agencies, or bad actors.

Law enforcement can seize and inspect your phone and will often intimidate you into allow them to do so without your permission or a warrant. They can also copy your phone’s data including your biometric data, even if forbidden to do so.

When traveling, turn your phone off. Or better yet, leave your phone at home.

Private texts and messaging should be done through an end-to-end encryption service like Signal.

4 – Lock down your data on your personal computers.

Be sure to store and save your private data in a different location than your day-to-day data. Do not keep your private and day-to-day data in the same folders.

Private data should be saved using encryption such as that offered by BitLocker.

Turn off ad servicing and location services.

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Windows: Settings > Privacy > and turn off all tracking options

Windows: Settings > Location > and turn off all locations options

Always remember that deleting data from your computer or device does not actually delete the data. Deleted data can be easily recovered. Services including Google and Apple automatically synchronize and save copies of your data to the cloud. Cloud data can be quickly recovered and restored, even if you think it’s been deleted.

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5 – Sign up for and use free end-to-end encrypted email services such as Tutanota or ProtonMail.

Both services are free and reliable. Use them as a secondary email for all of your private and sensitive communications. Your ISP and other service providers cannot peek inside, and advertisers cannot take advantage of the words you use to identify and sell you products or services.

Be sure to log out of your secondary email frequently to avoid shoulder-surfers or people from accessing your messages if you walk away from or otherwise lose control of your computer or device.

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