The overturn of Roe has effectively blown the lid off of negotiations on a federal privacy bill taking place between large privacy organizations, a handful of national privacy advocates, lawmakers, and tech lobbyists. As more people begin to understand the many ways in which those seeking abortion are at risk, this has rung alarm bells about data harms due to our lack of strong data privacy laws. Data privacy has now come to the forefront of news coverage and people’s social media feeds.
We need this increased awareness in order to enact strong people’s laws, yet it’s also really important to step back and acknowledge: the privacy and surveillance threats many cis-white women are suddenly waking up to for the first time have been present and growing for at least the past two decades. The truth is that data privacy harms and surveillance threats to bodily autonomy and other rights and liberties are not new at all for many, many people in this nation.
Geo-fence warrants, unwarranted data collection and surveillance via brokers and third parties, automated decision systems, biased algorithms, and biometric data collection have all threatened Immigrants; Black, Indigenous and people of color; LGBTQIA+ people; Muslims, community organizers; activists, anti-war, peace and environmental advocates; movement lawyers and journalists for years. These communities have all felt the brunt of data privacy and surveillance threats and harms, and have spoken up about it. But, far too many people, many of them privileged cis-women, have been quick to dismiss and gaslight the urgent calls and concerns over digital privacy and increasing surveillance as being unimportant, frivolous or even suspect. Lawmakers and media outlets have been all too willing to amplify the “Well, if you’re not doing anything suspicious, why would you care about privacy?” nonsense.
It is this very nonsense that has enabled the continued expansion of undue and unwarranted military, intelligence, law enforcement and even local government surveillance that has led to a decrease in public trust and a steep increase systemic inequities, and now presents huge threats to all abortion seekers. In the wake of Roe’s overturn, this is a critical and opportune moment to call this in for folks who’ve made these errors in ignorance: the nonsense notion that we should not fight for our privacy is actually a deeply white supremacist narrative, and there is so much power to be built in countering it collectively.
If there is any upside to the unprecedented and deeply political majority rulings the SCOTUS has issued over the past several weeks concerning rights and liberties. If there is an antidote to the sweeping effects on policing, increased extremist vigilantism, native sovereignty, uterus-having and trans access to life-saving and important forms of abortion and gender-affirming healthcare, and the EPA’s ability to enact urgent climate policies these rulings are poised to have, we hope it will be this:
Now is the perfect time for people with moderate to elevated levels of privilege, wealth and power to get into solidarity and to recognize that the removal of rights never stops at one group.
Roe’s overturn is a potent reminder: any time anyone’s rights are on the chopping block, ALL of us must feel called to action. Human rights can only be understood and acted upon as universal truths. None of us are free, until all of us are free. So, what’s good is that there is an antidote. We can use this moment to build strong community solidarity and coalitions that fight for everyone’s rights.
What’s Next: Four Federal Bills We’re Tracking
Currently, congress is on a short recess, returning on July 11th. In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which WA state Senator Maria Cantwell Chairs, the only major privacy bill to have had a hearing in committee this session is HR 8152, or the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA). This bicameral, bi-partisan bill is being described by privacy experts as an encouraging start, but is it strong enough to really protect us? We think not.
The ADPPA preempts stronger state legislation, has a very weak private right of action (meaning that for the next four years people can’t bring lawsuits for damages when their rights have been violated), contains many carve-outs and exceptions for government agencies and contractors, small and mid-size businesses, and definitely would not protect uterus-having people from having our data shared or sold. It also seems to preempt California’s privacy laws, which are currently the strongest we have in the U.S., and it may threaten existing municipal and county face and predictive policing bans like Bellingham’s. It allows for biometric data collection, and provides no protections for worker’s data at all.
So far, bodily autonomy and abortion healthcare have not been raised in public hearings, possibly due to the bipartisan nature of the bill. Given that ADPPA lacks in all of the above ways, it’s very important to press our lawmakers to fix its flaws. If a federal privacy bill enacts any preemption of stronger state laws, states will face even greater challenges protecting residents from current and future threats. Of key concern for WA PPN, are immigrant abortion-seekers (both undocumented and guest-worker visa-holding) and sex-workers seeking abortion and/or gender-affirming care, none of whom would be protected by ADPPA, and whom will also need to be protected via stronger state legislation.
In addition to ADPPA, We have our eyes on three other important bills, all yet to have hearings. Two of them, the “My Body, My Data Act,” and the “Health and Location Data Protection Act” are unlikely to pass the Senate. But, they are very strong bills that may create excellent roadmaps for states to enact in order to protect the health and location data of all residents, particularly abortion seekers. That is, unless preemptive federal legislation like ADPPA were to be passed. The third bill is the “Fourth Amendment is not for Sale Act,” a bipartisan bill that would prevent data brokers from selling U.S. person’s information to law enforcement and intelligence agencies without court oversight. This is a strong bill that would do much to further justice and clamp down on unwarranted surveillance.
So, what does this mean for us as everyday people and organizers?
People’s organizing and advocacy on federal privacy and anti-surveillance legislation can have a huge impact for people all over the nation. Making sure lawmakers hear from us, not just lobbyists and national organizations, is really important. WA People’s Privacy Network is dedicated to the pursuit of justice for ALL of us. We recognize that it is only by centering the needs, threats and harms experienced by individuals and communities most at risk that we will actually be able to attain a society in which all of us are free, all of us are cared for, and all of us are thriving.
If you do your organizing solidly and only on the left, intersectional always, and take a hard-line stance on all social justice issues, you may perfer to reach out using WA PPN’s Get Involved form to ask about WA Privacy Organizer involvement. 🙂
If you’re comfortable being involved in people’s legislative advocacy that is non-partisan, very strategic, and not always hard-line on all issues, fill out THIS survey* to get involved with WA-Privacy Organizers! WA PPN overlaps in members, and this group is administered by a long-time privacy advocate who is comfortable working with people of all political stripes on strategic points – meaning that there may be Socialists, Dems, Libertarians and Republicans all engaged in an advocacy action on key data privacy legislation.
*Don’t be alarmed by the “loading” screen for WA Privacy Organizers. They are using an encrypted alternative to google forms, docs, etc. to securely collect your contact info, so that it remains private!