LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – After the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade, several online posts urged users of period-tracking apps to take them down over fears the information collected could end up in court. Privacy experts said the future is unclear for online privacy.
“Even if you just think of a data breach, when the information isn’t being collected by law enforcement, it’s being posted online. That puts you at some risk, especially when we live in an environment where you could be prosecuted depending on the state,” said Thomas Holt, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University.
The proliferation of trigger laws targeting abortion after federal abortion protections were lifted prompted several women’s health apps to emphasize their privacy policies.
In a post to users, employees at Europe-based app Clue said strong privacy laws in the region protect American user data from law enforcement.
We would have a primary legal obligation under European law not to disclose private health information. No US court or other authority can simply overrule this as we are not based in the US. Our user data cannot be requested from the USA. We are subject to the jurisdiction of the German and European courts that apply European data protection law, as well as German human rights principles in criminal prosecution and procedural standards.
Clue health app
Holt said European laws and data encryption practices make it easier for these companies to protect user data.
“Depending on the course, applications tend towards encryption. I’m thinking of apps like Signal, where there is end-to-end encryption. Which is a lot harder to get the information when a company doesn’t comply with a subpoena,” he said.
But what does data protection look like from the state side?
In a statement sent to 6 News, California-based app Glow said, “We will remain uncompromising in our commitment to protecting the privacy and personal health information of our users. Period.”
Michael McDaniel, a professor at Cooley Law School, agrees with Holt that American-based companies may have an uphill battle protecting user data. While some state laws protect the sale of such information, legal pressure could still work.
“Can’t share that information, can’t sell that information to another party, but that doesn’t mean law enforcement can’t get that information through a properly executed search warrant,” McDaniel said.
McDanel and Holt said the post-Roe world means there could be new challenges to the extent to which the state government can impose restrictions on access to information such as abortion resources on the internet.