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United States Privacy Digest | Notes from the IAPP, July 1, 2022 Related reading: Notes from the IAPP, June 24, 2022

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Happy Friday, U.S. Digest readers!

It’s an unbelievably exciting summer in our family as my husband and I prepare to welcome our first baby in just a few short weeks. Over these past eight months, I’ve turned to women’s health applications to help track medical appointments and testing, symptoms and doctor’s notes, and to connect with a community of other pregnant women.

Particularly going through this experience for the first time, the technology has been helpful, but in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last week, the amount of data collected and held within tracking apps and its potential exploitation for surveillance or prosecution of women or physicians seeking or conducting abortions in violation of state laws is raising concerns.

On Wednesday, I received an email from the Flo app titled “Your body. Your data,” outlining what Flo says is a commitment to protecting users’ data and privacy and announcing the launch of an anonymous mode in coming weeks that will enable users to remove personal identifiers from their accounts.

Flo is just one company reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision, and potential privacy violations through tracking apps are just one area of impact being felt by the privacy community.

While the ruling centers around a woman’s right to choose, many are questioning whether it could undermine Constitutional rights to privacy. President Joe Biden said it throws “every other decision involving the notion of privacy” into question, while University of New Hampshire Professor of Law Tiffany Li told The Privacy Advisor abortion is “intimately connected with privacy” in U.S. law. She said Roe v. Wade’s reversal “could impact many cases involving privacy rights,” adding, “Rights to abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage and more.”

Related to fears that patients and physicians could be reported under state anti-abortion laws, the Department of Health and Human Services published guidance on patient privacy, while lawmakers are exploring avenues to protect women’s health and reproductive privacy rights. Some, like U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., are tying the court’s decision to the need for a federal privacy law. Wyden called legislation an immediate and necessary response so people’s “web searches, text messages and location tracking aren’t weaponized against them.”

But questions are being raised over whether the proposed American Data Privacy and Protection Act — potentially the closest the U.S. has come to a privacy law thus far — would do enough to protect abortion-related data, and in the meantime, Biden is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to tighten monitoring and enforcement of unfair and deceptive practices related to women’s health data.

There’s undoubtedly going to be a lot to keep up with in this space as the impact of Roe v. Wade’s reversal continues to be felt. Know you can always count on us to bring you the latest.

Have a happy, safe Fourth of July weekend!  

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