Woman patient with doctor showing post-Roe and healthcare providers

Four Tips for Organizations and Individuals To Protect Their Privacy in Post-Roe America

There’s a new reality for organizations and individuals after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. States may prosecute healthcare providers that offer reproductive health services like abortion. Individuals may seek to obtain statutory damages from providers of abortion services. And companies that provide abortion-related access benefits to their employees may find themselves receiving requests from prosecutors or individuals seeking to impose liability for individuals obtaining reproductive care.

This rapidly shifting legal landscape—that varies state-to-state—has led organizations and individuals alike to seek ways to protect their digital and physical privacy. Unfortunately, there is no privacy panacea, but there are specific recommendations for individuals, healthcare providers, and technology companies to minimize their digital and physical footprints. While each person and organization should develop their own privacy plans to fit their unique requirements and preferences, here are four general privacy tips.

Tip #1. Minimize data collection and delete it afterwards

It’s easier to protect privacy by not creating information rather than trying to protect it after it exists. For individuals, minimizing data collection means creating less data. Every message sent, social media post, and internet search creates data. For example, if you need to obtain reproductive health services and are researching healthcare providers on the internet, it’s important to use private browsing or a privacy-protected web browser.

Organizations should minimize the data collected for incoming patients and for employee benefit purposes. For example, if you’re a healthcare provider, it may not be necessary to specify the exact reason for the appointment at patient intake. If an organization collects the name of the patient, the date of the appointment, and the reason for the appointment, that could make for great evidence in a criminal investigation. Similarly, employers who offer abortion-related services as an employee benefit should consider using nonspecific names—such as “healthcare benefit” rather than “abortion services benefit”—in their human resources management systems.

Minimizing the amount of data collected and created is an important first step in protecting privacy, but if it’s not possible to reduce the amount of data collected, it’s important to create a data deletion protocol. As an individual this means deleting your browsing and internet histories and device data.  As an organization it means and getting rid of data when it’s no longer needed.

Tip #2. Communicate securely

There are numerous ways to communicate securely when using your smartphone. The default video calling app on your iPhone (FaceTime) or Android (Duo), or even Zoom calls, is an easy and effective end-to-end encrypted communication application. These video conferencing tools are convenient, secure communication methods that have the added benefit of not creating a written record. For healthcare providers, it’s important to allow individuals to book appointments or make contact by using secure messaging services, emails, or video calls.

Tip #3. It’s not all digital: Watch your physical footprint too

If you’re a pregnant person looking to obtain reproductive health services in a state that has outlawed abortion, focusing your privacy efforts on the physical world matters just as much as your digital footprint. The most important step in this process is telling as few people as possible about your personal decision. People talk, and people can become witnesses; only tell people you trust.

When traveling to a healthcare provider, carefully plan your travel. Avoid using ride-sharing apps when possible. If you do use an app, or if you drive yourself using GPS to guide you there, set your destination to a nearby business instead of the address of the healthcare provider. Also, consider parking somewhere other than at the healthcare facility, because anti-abortion protestors have surveilled reproductive healthcare providers, photographing patients and their vehicles.

If you’re purchasing abortion medications, be mindful of your mail and where you put your garbage. Law enforcement can examine the outside of your mail or trash left outside without a search warrant. Similarly, for organizations and healthcare providers, shredding and disposing of paper records is just as important as setting short data-retention policies for digital information.

Tip #4. Know your rights when approached by law enforcement

The most important step for both organizations and individuals if they are approached—or served with a subpoena or search warrant—by law enforcement is to call a lawyer.

Law enforcement requests are often voluntary. Individuals can decline to be interviewed, and can decline to turnover property without a search warrant. Further, a person can only be compelled to provide biometric identification (like a fingerprint or facial scan) for their phone if the search warrant specifically authorizes it.

When organizations are presented with legal process, they should only provide data that is responsive to the request. Organizations should also make sure the legal process is particularized:  the request must be limited in scope and cannot have indefinite time periods. Organizations should look to ensure that the court that authorized the legal process has proper jurisdiction. If these conditions are not met, the legal process can be challenged.

In post-Roe America, the rapidly shifting legal landscape—that varies state-to-state—has led organizations and individuals alike to seek ways to protect their digital and physical #privacy when seeking or providing reproductive healthcare. #respectdataClick to Tweet

There’s no perfect way for a person or organization to protect their physical and digital privacy. Like a person’s choices for their own reproductive health, privacy—and how one chooses to protect it—is personal.