Abortion access advocates push for law protecting patient location data

Civil rights and reproductive care advocates are joining forces on a campaign urging lawmakers to prohibit the sale of cellphone location data, warning that the practice could expose people seeking care in abortion clinics to harassment and, in some states, prosecution.

Data brokers are allowed to purchase movement and location data tracked by most cellphones and then resell it to anyone with a credit card, the groups say, including to anti-abortion groups or to law enforcement agencies in states with bans on abortion services.

A coalition of organizations including the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, Reproductive Equity Now and the ACLU of Massachusetts pointed to Vice reporting in May that found one location data firm allowed users to see roughly where Planned Parenthood abortion clinic visitors live.

The groups said Massachusetts should now bar companies from selling, leasing, trading or renting cellphone data and require consent to collect and process it, as laid out in a bill (H 357 / S 148) filed by Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian of Melrose and Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton.

"Our personal location information reveals the most sensitive and intimate things about each of us, and we all deserve to keep that information private," said ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose. "Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, states that ban abortion or gender-affirming care can purchase location data and use it to identify and prosecute people who travel to Massachusetts for health care. Massachusetts can, and should, continue to do all it can to protect patients, helpers, and providers by banning the sale of cellphone location information."

Campaign organizers say there are not yet documented cases of states using location data to prosecute people for seeking abortion services, but view that development as likely given reported examples of companies selling that information.

Coalition members rolled out new public polling as part of their campaign. A Beacon Research poll for the ACLU of Massachusetts found that only one in three voters know companies can sell their location data, and 92 percent said they would support legislation banning the practice.

The bill is pending before the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee, which has not scheduled a hearing on it.


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