Damaging data: Corporate due diligence and reproductive rights
The United States (US) Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization rolled back reproductive rights and access to abortion across the country. Dobbs' overturn of Roe v. Wade meant that historic abortion bans took effect again, as did numerous restrictive abortion laws passed since 1973. In some of the most restrictive states this has put pregnant people’s lives at risk. It has also opened the possibility for people to be punished for seeking abortions, healthcare professionals to be punished for providing them, and friends and family members to be punished for helping people access abortions.
Digital and human rights experts warned that data collection by technology and financial companies could be used in investigations and court cases to enforce anti-abortion laws. This poses significant risks to people’s right to privacy, as well as other fundamental rights and freedoms. In response to these concerns, we invited 63 technology and financial companies operating in the US and collecting user or payment data to respond to survey questions on their transparency and human rights due diligence processes. Fourteen companies responded. Their responses revealed limited transparency, gaps in human rights due diligence processes to understand rights implications associated with data collection in this context, a woeful lack of knowledge on how data collection could contribute to violating users’ rights, and apparent gaps in company policies and practices regarding third-party access to data, including government requests for access to information.
Our analysis also found:
・ Eight out of 14 companies acknowledged the US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization restricting access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.
・ Six companies (Clue, Flo Health, Natural Cycles, Philips Digital UK, Preglife, and TikTok) acknowledged the changed landscape following the Supreme Court decision and described actions taken to respond. Some actions, such as introducing "anonymous mode" and strengthening encryption of user data, are in line with recommendations from digital rights experts and represent best practice among the surveyed companies.
・ Only two companies (Clue and Flo Health) acknowledged privacy as a human right; the remaining 12 companies reiterated their commitment to protecting users' privacy and shared privacy policies. Natural Cycles and SimpleInnovation adapted their privacy policies, while Philips Digital UK and TikTok described processes to review their policies following the Supreme Court decision.
・ None of the 14 respondent companies explained their human rights due diligence risk assessment methodologies or outlined how human rights factor into those risk assessments. Only one company, Natural Cycles, stated it had conducted a risk assessment, described the main risk identified as a potential subpoena for user data, and explained how it plans to mitigate that risk.
・ Five companies (Bank of America, Citigroup, Glow, Med ART Studios, and Meta) did not share information regarding their policies or guidelines to address government requests, notifications to their users, or steps to challenge unlawful government or law enforcement requests for user data.
Companies must take steps to protect users' rights to privacy and freedom of expression, and address how that data may impact other rights including reproductive rights and access to healthcare. Failure to conduct meaningful human rights due diligence in line with the UNGPs to identify, prevent, and mitigate human rights risks will result in the restriction of health rights and reproductive freedom.
Company survey responses
Read all the responses we received from tech and finance companies
Experts warn of labour, privacy & surveillance risks if access to abortion is restricted
In States where abortion has been criminalised, digital rights experts warn that data tracking and digital surveillance methods could be used to target individuals who have had or facilitated abortions.
Tech & rights
Technology offers powerful tools for society, but restrictions to digital freedom and developments in artificial intelligence, automation and robotics raise serious concerns about the impacts on human rights and the future of work. Explore our resources on tech and rights.