Facebook’s role in US underage abortion investigation rekindles #DeleteFacebook movement


Facebook’s involvement in a police investigation targeting a 17-year-old American woman who had an abortion and her mother has rekindled fears that the platform could be used by conservative states to fight voluntary abortions.

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On August 8, Forbes and other US media revealed that social media giant Facebook had provided police with private messages that led to the charging of a 41-year-old mother, Jessica Burgess, with helping her daughter Celeste, 17 years old, to abort in Nebraska, where abortion is prohibited from twenty weeks after fertilization.

Jessica Burgess is the subject of five counts. Her daughter faces three counts, including concealment and abandonment of a corpse. Both women pleaded not guilty last week, according to reports. Women’s rights activists warned, after the US Supreme Court’s decision to revoke the constitutional right to abortion, of the danger posed by the mountains of data accumulated by tech companies on their users.

A risk of “destruction or modification of evidence”

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, defended itself on Tuesday, noting that the court’s warrant  » did not mention abortion at all and had been issued before the Supreme Court’s about-face. This line of defense seems
insinuating that *if* the search warrant had mentioned abortion, the result would have been different. But that’s obviously wrong tweeted Logan Koepke, a researcher who notably studies the impact of technology on criminal justice. When contacted, the company highlighted its policy of responding favorably to requests from the authorities when  » the law requires us to « .

For many observers, the Nebraska affair will not remain an isolated case.  » This will continue to happen to companies that have a lot of data on people in the country and around the world. “Explains Alexandra Givens, from the NGO Center for Democracy & Technology. According to the latter, firms faced with legal requests formulated in the rules have an interest in responding to them.

Police had asked the judge to order Meta not to tell Ms Burgess’s daughter about the search warrant relating to her Facebook posts, citing a risk of  » destruction or alteration of evidence « . The police officer behind the request told the court that he had begun to investigate at the end of April following  » worries about the possibility that the 17-year-old may have given birth prematurely to a “ stillborn child “, which she and her mother would then have buried together.

A wave of indignation

This case provoked strong reactions on social networks, mainly across the Atlantic. Since the #DeleteFacebook movement, (Delete Facebook) is picking up in the United States. On social networks, Internet users say they have deleted Facebook and call on other users to delete their accounts to protect their personal data.

After the Supreme Court’s decision to revoke the constitutional right to abortion in June, leaving every state free to ban it, pro-choice activists organized via social media to send abortion pills to States where abortion was going to be banned or heavily restricted. Facebook said at the time that it would ban from its platform users who post messages aimed at circumventing the law. A first wave of the #DeleteFacebook movement had then emerged.

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