Advance Notice: Briefs

Whitmer to big tech: Prevent data from being used against women seeking reproductive care

By: - September 1, 2022 8:20 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during the budget signing at the Corner Ballpark in Detroit on July 20, 2022. | Ken Coleman

Following recent reports of Facebook data being weaponized against women, nurses and doctors in the fallout of Roe v. Wade being toppled, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday urged five of the world’s largest tech companies to bolster data privacy protections and increase transparency.

“Keyword searches, message histories, location data, and general health data can all be used to target women seeking health care and to criminally prosecute the doctors and nurses who provide it,” Whitmer wrote in the letter to Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft. “I therefore call on you to take immediate measures to protect the privacy of your users.”

Whitmer requests that the companies:

  • Provide users with clearer mechanisms to opt out of data retention and sharing for sensitive health information, including any sale of such data to third parties.
  • Provide user information to law enforcement only in response to requests that conform to the relevant law, while notifying users when law enforcement makes such a request.
  • Make information publicly available about requests they receive for sensitive health data and other information that could be used to prosecute women for seeking health care.

“Amid an ongoing assault on women’s bodily autonomy by extremists who do not hesitate to use location and health data to target Michiganders, we must do more to protect everyone’s fundamental right to privacy. While some elected officials take steps to control and surveil women, nurses, and doctors, I am fighting like hell to protect Michiganders’ freedom and privacy,” Whitmer said in a statement.

There are currently two Michigan lawsuits in litigation to repeal the state’s 91-year-old abortion ban. One was filed by Whitmer and the other was filed by Planned Parenthood of Michigan, which named Attorney General Dana Nessel as the defendant.

 The 1931 law, which prohibits doctors from performing any abortions except to save the life of the ‘pregnant woman,’ has been blocked since May when an injunction was issued in the Planned Parenthood lawsuit.

Whitmer will face GOP nominee Tudor Dixon, a right-wing commentator, in the November gubernatorial election. Dixon supports Michigan’s 1931 abortion law and has said she would not support exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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