How Republican Religious Anti-Abortion Freaks Plan to Use Data Brokers to Track Women

by | Feb 22, 2024 | Human Rights & Justice

Photo by Tobias, Unsplash.

How Republican Religious Anti-Abortion Freaks Plan to Use Data Brokers to Track Women

by | Feb 22, 2024 | Human Rights & Justice

Photo by Tobias, Unsplash.

If a Republican is elected to the White House, you can expect all caution to go out the window: every woman of reproductive age in America will have a target on her back—or her uterus.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Right now, they’re laying low. They’re waiting for a Republican president to institute a national ban on abortion so they can start their jeremiads against women seeking abortions. In the meantime, they’re getting ready.

“They,” of course, are the religious anti-abortion freaks in the GOP who want to punish “loose women” who seek abortions. Longer term, they also want to target women seeking birth control who, instead of being in the workplace or college, Republicans believe should be at home barefoot, pregnant, and in full-out tradwife mode.

And they’ve already started. As Senator Tammy Baldwin, joined by 11 other Democratic senators, noted in a letter to two data brokers:

“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.

“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.”

Ever since Donald Trump and then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai ended “net neutrality,” which should have been called “net privacy,” your Internet Service Provider (ISP)—the company that brings the internet into your home (and your phone company when it comes to your smart phone, and all the apps on it)—can track and record every website you visit, read every email you send or receive, and log every search you do, even if you’re using duckduckgo or other “private” search engines.

By 6-3, Republicans on the Supreme Court agreed with Trump that the FCC could open the floodgates for apps and ISPs to track you and me and sell our data to anybody they please, as I wrote about at length in The Hidden History of Big Brother in America.

They then can—and most do—legally sell your information to data brokers who compile it along with your social media, government records, purchase records from retailers like pharmacies, and other publicly available information. 

Most Americans believe this data is anonymized or only used by responsible companies to deliver ads, but they are wrong. Any Republican politician, Red state prosecutor, cop, abusive spouse, anti-abortion fanatic, or militia member with a few bucks can buy pretty much anything he wants to know about you, thanks to Trump and the GOP.

Such activity is illegal—a felony—in every other developed country in the world. Only in America is such privacy invasion not only legal but a multi-billion-dollar industry. It’s central to the business model for most of the largest internet-based companies in the country.  

And, yes, they’re already doing it to bust and punish individuals for their behavior.

It was such a sale to a data broker that led Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, a Wisconsin Catholic priest who was the General Secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, to resign when his use of a gay dating app and subsequent visits to gay prostitutes—found by purchasing location data from his phone—was acquired and used against him.

Imagine how much more motivated elected Republican Attorneys General, their police agencies, and vigilantes looking at $10,000-per-person bounties are to buy and use data from health apps and online searches once the heat of an election year has passed.

It’s going on as you read these words: literally millions of such data transfers, sales, and purchases happen every day in America.

Senator Ron Wyden recently revealed how a rightwing advertising executive was able to target people who’d visited abortion clinics and related businesses, sending them anti-abortion ads on their smartphones as they sat in the waiting rooms of those facilities. Wyden said:

“If a data broker could track Americans’ cell phones to help extremists target misinformation to people at hundreds of Planned Parenthood locations across the United States, a right-wing prosecutor could use that same information to put women in jail.

“Federal watchdogs should hold the data broker accountable for abusing Americans’ private information. And Congress needs to step up as soon as possible to ensure extremist politicians can’t buy this kind of sensitive data without a warrant.”

The only slim thread of privacy Americans still enjoy when it comes to medical issues is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which applies to hospitals and doctors offices but does not apply to data brokers, internet service providers, mobile apps (including period trackers and other medical apps), and social media platforms.

Additionally, police do not need a warrant to purchase information about you that’s been essentially laundered through a data broker.

When reporters for Vice magazine’s Motherboard section tried to buy data on women getting abortions from one of these brokers, they found they could get a week’s worth of visits to over 600 Planned Parenthood clinics all across the country for less than $200:

“SafeGraph classifies ‘Planned Parenthood’ as a ‘brand’ that can be tracked, and the data Motherboard purchased includes more than 600 Planned Parenthood locations in the United States. The data included a week’s worth of location data for those locations in mid-April. SafeGraph calls the location data product ‘Patterns.’ In total, the data cost just over $160. Not all Planned Parenthood locations offer abortion services. But Motherboard verified that some facilities included in the purchased dataset do.”

Police in Red states are already using internet-based information to harass and prosecute women they believe may have illegally aborted at home, typically by obtaining Mifepristone through the mail.

  • Last April, police in Nebraska used data they’d obtained from a social media platform (Facebook) to arrest 17-year-old Celeste Burgess and her mother, Jessica Burgess, for Celeste having given birth to a stillborn baby at home. The mother and daughter had discussed obtaining abortion pills on the platform using what they thought was private messaging.
  • Thirty-two year-old Jennie McCormack was charged in Idaho with a 5-year felony of inducing her own abortion; she’d obtained the pills through the mail via the internet.  
  • Purvi Patel was sentenced to 20 years in an Indiana prison for obtaining abortion pills through the mail and using them; an appeal lowered the penalty to 18 months, which she had by that time served. The evidence against her came from her own phone.
  • In Arkansas, Anne Bynum was arrested after giving birth at home to a stillborn fetus; prosecutors also went after her friend, Karen Collins, who’d helped her obtain abortion pills through the mail, according to data on the Internet. Bynum was sentenced to 6 years in prison, although the sentence was later overturned.
  • Mississippi prosecutors charged Latice Fisher with murder following the stillborn birth of her fetus; she’d only known she was pregnant for about a month. They seized her phone and found that she’d searched for information on obtaining abortion pills and used that to try to prosecute her in a way that could have ended with her getting the death penalty, although when they couldn’t find proof she’d actually obtained or used the pills they had to drop the charges.

In most of these cases, even those the women won, the legal costs of being pursued and prosecuted by overzealous Republican prosecutors wiped them out.

As Senator Tammy Baldwin noted:

“The companies collect incredibly precise location and time data from millions of Americans’ phones. The data can reveal where people who visit abortion clinics came from, where they go afterwards, and even where they live.

“And anyone can buy the companies’ data—or in’s case, access some of the data simply by creating a free account—including individuals, corporations, and governments who want to learn who is seeking abortion care and where they are.”

For the moment, our nation’s abortion laws are in flux and multiple lawsuits against Red states’ bans on abortion have dampened prosecutors’ enthusiasm for going after women who’ve obtained abortion medications via the mail.

If a Republican is elected to the White House, you can expect all that caution to go out the window: every woman of reproductive age in America will have a target on her back (or, more correctly, her uterus).

The next time Democrats take control of the House, Senate, and White House they need to emulate the European Union and institute strict laws regulating the selling, renting, and use of such personal information.

Data brokering is now a $200 billion a year industry here in the US, so there will be stiff lobbying and millions in campaign contributions flowing (thanks to five corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court who legalized political bribery with Citizens United), but hopefully public opinion and common sense will prevail.

Privacy in America should be a right, not just a privilege only available to the morbidly rich…

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

Follow Us

Subscribe for Updates!

Subscribe for Updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This