With Roe v. Wade under threat, sale of data was “simply unconscionable, risking the safety and security of women everywhere”
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy (D-CT) joined Senator Elizabeth Warren and 10 of their Senate colleagues in sending letters to SafeGraph and Placer.ai, condemning the two data brokers for collecting and selling the cellphone-based location data of people who visit abortion clinics and risking the safety and privacy of anyone seeking abortion services.
The Senators are demanding answers about the companies’ data collection practices, in response to a draft majority opinion by the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade, threatening fifty years of precedent protecting access to abortion and the right to make health care decisions without partisan interference.
“This disturbing practice is completely unconscionable given the ongoing attack on reproductive freedoms in our nation. SafeGraph and Placer.ai are putting people’s lives at risk by making this private information readily available to anti-abortion activists, politicians and law enforcement — some of whom have already used this data to criminally charge people seeking abortions and send them targeted anti-choice ads on their phones. This is a shameful assault on a person’s right to make private health care decisions and these companies have a moral obligation to end this practice immediately,” Blumenthal said.
“The far right has made it clear – their goal is to criminalize abortion and lock up women and doctors. Given that reality, it is deeply concerning that data brokers are collecting and selling sensitive cell phone location data that could help them. We’ve got to protect women in a world without Roe, and ensuring their privacy during routine medical care is essential,” said Murphy.
Data brokers collect untold amounts of information from Americans’ cellphones, often without the consumer’s consent or knowledge. SafeGraph and Placer.ai collect precise location and time data from Americans’ phones, revealing exactly where an individual goes at a given time. The collected data is then available to anyone willing to purchase it.
“Anti-abortion activists have already used location data to send targeted anti-choice ads to women’s phones while they are sitting in abortion clinics… Anti-abortion politicians in Republican-led states have placed bounties on women who receive abortions and doctors that provide them and even proposed laws that would punish pregnant people for traveling to seek abortions out of state. Anti-abortion prosecutors have used search and message data to criminally charge abortion seekers,” wrote the senators. “These and other practices targeting women seeking necessary health care services are almost certain to escalate if Roe v. Wade is gutted and abortion is criminalized instantly in states across the nation. Under these circumstances, [your company’s] decision to sell data that allowed any buying customer to determine the locations of people seeking abortion services was simply unconscionable, risking the safety and security of women everywhere.”
The senators also condemned the two companies for their lack of responses to the public outcry over their data collection practices involving people who visit abortion clinics. Neither company provided any information about the number of people impacted, who accessed their data, whether their data removals would be permanent, or other remedial practices.
Given the urgent threat to abortion rights, the senators are asking both companies to respond with detailed answers by May 31, 2022.
Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.); Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; Tina Smith (D-Minn.); Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Budget Committee; Ed Markey (D-Mass.); Cory Booker (D-N.J.); Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chair of the Senate Rules Committee; Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee; Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.); and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) also joined the letter.