Facebook criticized for bringing private messages to justice

Facebook came under fire for two days in the United States for sharing the content of conversations between a mother and her 17-year-old daughter in an illegal abortion case. The investigation, and the legal request directed at Facebook, dates back to before the US Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe vs. Wade, on June 24, which enshrined the right to abortion in the United States.

In Nebraska, where the two women reside, abortion is permitted up to twenty weeks after conception (fourteen weeks in France). The young woman is accused of having a miscarriage at the age of twenty-foure A week into the pregnancy, her mother is accused of complicity, because she ordered the abortion pill. She was denounced by an anonymous informant, and the two women were also accused of illegally burying the fetus and lying to investigators.

Facebook has come under widespread criticism for agreeing to relay conversations between the two women to investigators on Facebook Messenger, after it received an injunction. Nothing in the official requests we received from investigators in early June, prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, mentioned a miscarriage.And the Andy Stone explainedFacebook spokesperson. Purchase requisitions sparked investigation (…) To bury or cremate the body of a dead child. »

Judicial seizure

Like all US companies, Facebook is required to respond to legal requests from US authorities. In rare cases, large Silicon Valley companies have challenged in the past purchase orders requesting access to private messages; In 2010, Twitter notably challenged the request to access private messages from the account operated by WikiLeaks. According to the Meta Transparency Tool, Facebook responds to just over 100,000 requests for information each year in the US alone, although only a fraction of those requests relate to private messages.

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In US states where abortion has been or will be prohibited, it is very likely that future law enforcement will send requests for information to social networks, email providers, telephone operators or other carriers, and that these have no other choice but to act on it.

Abortion rights advocates have warned, since Roe v. Wade was overturned, about how quickly online exchanges can be used to prosecute women who have or wish to have abortions in states that would ban abortion. Major organizations defending individual rights and freedom of abortion recommend the use of secure messaging to prevent incriminating messages from being obtained by law enforcement.

Read also: Abortion: In the United States, digital giants face the risk associated with personal data

Message encryption

Unlike messages exchanged on secure apps like WhatsApp or Signal, Facebook Messenger exchanges are not “end-to-end” encrypted by default – you have to activate an option for this to be the case. When the exchange is encrypted “end-to-end”, only the sender and recipient can read it; Neither Facebook nor the phone operator can access its content.

In this case, the investigators also published very important means of accessing the communications between the two women: during the search, they also seized five phones and several laptops, from which they extracted more than 24 gigabytes of data.

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Following the Supreme Court’s decision, conservative elected officials in Nebraska attempted to reduce the legal time limit for abortion in the state to twelve weeks after conception. But even in this ultra-conservative state, where the House of Representatives has two-thirds of Republicans to one-third of Democrats, the bill failed to get a majority of the vote. Recent polls show that the vast majority of Americans support the right to abortion in cases of rape or when the health of the mother is at stake, and nearly 60% of those surveyed support the right to abortion as it was practiced before the Supreme Council. Court decision.

Read also: In the US, a 10-year-old girl, pregnant after being raped, had to leave Ohio to have an abortion

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