Health Care

Patients seeking abortion, gender-affirming care at risk of increased surveillance: report 

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Patients seeking out-of-state abortions and gender-affirming care are at risk of increased surveillance from law enforcement, according to a new report.

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) released a report Tuesday detailing the elevated dangers for patients who travel for abortions or gender-affirming care.  

“Surveillance doesn’t stop at the state line,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of STOP. “Even as progressive states seek to protect abortion and gender affirming care within our borders, anti-choice states are continuing to expand the threat that they will prosecute residents who leave the state to find evidence-based medical treatment.”  

Cahn emphasized that it’s crucial for patients to understand how they can be tracked by law enforcement even when outside of the state, writing, “Every hotel reservation and bridge toll will be just one subpoena away from being used against a patient in court.”  

The report comes a little over a year after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, which eliminated the 1973 precedent granting the constitutional right to abortion. The Supreme Court granted states the authority to limit or ban the procedure.  

In the months that followed, several Republican-led states moved against residents’ access to abortions.

The report found law enforcement and state officials can use license plate readers, ticket information and street cameras to track and identify residents “seeking, facilitating, or providing out-of-state care.” Furthermore, the report claims law enforcement agencies can “weaponize data,” that is already commercially available to them, while being able to buy more data from hotels and smartphones.  

STOP research director Eleni Manis said while “there’s no such thing as an open road anymore,” there are “relatively safer travel methods.” The report found mass public transportation is preferable, as prosecutors and state officials are “unlikely to leverage knowledge,” about where a patient took a specific subway or bus stop.  

Mass public transportation still does have surveillance concerns however, with some cities increasing tracking of public buses or subways and others forcing riders to pay with phone or credit card instead of cash, according to the report.  

The report found using private cars, Uber or Lyft present the risk of collecting the rider’s data including email addresses, phone numbers, payment information, app location service and destination data, while also having a camera in the vehicle. The report noted taking taxi rides could lower the risk in some cities that don’t collect ridership data.  

“Although this database is anonymized, taxi trip data can be combined with street camera footage to track an individual passenger, mitigating the anonymizing effects of paying for a tax using cash,” the report stated.

Researchers went on to detail the differing surveillance risks associated with scooter and bike share programs, airplanes, long haul buses and Amtrak.

The report also examined the risks connected with hotels and motels, which it found both volunteer or sell information to law enforcement. In comparison, the report found the U.S. Civil Code prohibits law enforcement from having access to short-term rental data, without an administrative subpoena. The report stated staying at the home “of a trusted person” is a safe option, but noted those in public housing have limited privacy from law enforcement.

In a STOP report published last year, researchers determined abortion seekers were being tracked even before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Tags abortion Gender-affirming care law enforcement surveillance

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