Facebook Under Fire for Handing Over Private Messages in Teen Abortion Case

Facebook handed over private chats to the police from its messenger app in an alleged abortion case involving a mother and teen daughter from Nebraska. 

Now the duo is facing charges. Facebook and its parent company Meta are being condemned for sharing private data. 

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, tech workers, privacy advocates, and women’s rights advocates expressed concern about how user data could be stored by tech companies and used against people seeking an abortion. 

When a Facebook staffer originally posed the dilemma to Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, asking how the platform would protect user data of individuals seeking abortion care, Zuckerberg said his company’s ongoing push to encrypt messaging would help protect people from “bad behavior or over-broad requests for information.” 

But then local Nebraska police came knocking for private data in June before Roe was even officially overturned. Facebook handed the user data over of a mother and daughter facing criminal charges for allegedly carrying out an illegal abortion. 

Private messages between the two discussing how to obtain abortion pills were handed over by Facebook to the police. The 17-year-old was more than 20 weeks pregnant. In Nebraska, abortions are banned after 20 weeks of pregnancy. 

She is now being tried as an adult. 

The court case shows how tech companies, including Facebook and Meta, contribute to criminal prosecutions of abortion cases. 

Experts say it also shows the importance of encryption and minimizing the amount of data Facebook stores on its users. It also indicates that abortion will be prosecuted in the United States with assistance from tech companies. 

The social media giant is under fire by experts. Now, privacy and tech experts are pointing the public towards other encrypted messaging services that people should be using instead of Messenger, or apps within the Meta family. 

International rights organization Global Justice Center wrote: “Abortion rights supporters have long warned about the destructive power of mass surveillance in the hands of the anti-abortion movement. Now, we’re seeing what that could look like.” 

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