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Assemblymember Mia Bonta Says California Bill Will Protect People Seeking Abortion and Gender-Affirming Care from Dragnet Digital Surveillance

AB 793 (Bonta) is backed by the ACLU, If/WhenHow/ EFF and a coalition of more than 25 reproductive justice, civil liberties, and privacy groups

Sierra Sun Times

On Monday, Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced AB 793 a bill that works to support safe access to reproductive and gender-affirming care in the digital age by protecting people from unconstitutional searches of their data.

“With states across the country passing anti-abortion and anti-trans legislation, it’s vital that California shore up our protections against digital tracking of vulnerable people seeking healthcare,” said Assemblymember Bonta. “This legislation will put a stop to unconstitutional “reverse warrants” – preserving our digital privacy and protecting Californians’ right to live life on our own terms.”

AB 793 targets a type of dragnet surveillance demand that can compel tech companies to search their records and reveal the identities of all people who have driven down a certain street or looked up a particular keyword online. These demands, known as “reverse warrants”, “geofence warrants,” or “keyword warrants,” enable local law enforcement in states across the country to request the names and identities of all people whose digital data shows they’ve spent time near a California abortion clinic or searched for information about gender-affirming care online.

“Between 2018 and 2020, Google alone received more than 5,700 reverse warrant demands from states that now have anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ legislation on the books,” said Hayley Tsukayama, Senior Legislative Activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “As a worldwide leader in technology and innovation, California is uniquely positioned to divest from digital surveillance that would target people for having an abortion or seeking reproductive and gender-affirming care.”

“Carrying a smartphone, using social media, and allowing apps to know our location has become a part of our daily routines,” said Becca Cramer-Mowder, Legislative Advocate at ACLU California Action. “But it means that each of us has a vast data trail that is vulnerable to government abuse. Anti-abortion police and prosecutors have used digital data to criminalize people for their abortion long before Roe v. Wade was overturned, and law enforcement in other states have already abused reverse warrants to identify people protesting police violence. We need to put a stop to this type of dragnet surveillance.”

“As states across the country pass anti-abortion legislation, it’s vital that states like California do everything in their power to create protections against digital tracking. Our digital surveillance infrastructure has been weaponized again and again to surveil, target, and criminalize Black, brown, and Indigenous people, poor people, immigrants, and queer and trans people,” said Myra Durán, Senior Policy Advocate at If/When/How. “No one should face or fear criminalization for their abortion or gender affirming care. Criminalization creates a detrimental life-long domino effect–people can lose their jobs, housing, custody of their children, immigration status, and community. When we decide to end our pregnancies, we should be able to do so with dignity, and without fear of being arrested, investigated, or jailed.”

“With every technological advancement, there is an opportunity for abuse. None is scarier than the potential for the abuse to invade personal and private healthcare decisions,” stated Assemblymember Bonta.

A coalition of more than 25 reproductive justice, civil liberties, and privacy groups have already signed on to support the bill. With the introduction of AB 793 California joins the vanguard of states that have taken action to protect people from reverse warrants, including New York, Massachusetts, and Missouri.

AB 793 is expected to be heard in the Assembly next month.