Virginia Republicans voted this week to defer a bill that would have barred authorities from using search warrants to seize menstrual data stored on computers or other electronic devices.
Advocates of the bill say the result could make Virginia’s private menstrual data susceptible to surveillance, and it could put people in the state at risk of prosecution if they sought abortions in the post-Roe v. Wade era. have or receive.
Despite passing the Senate in a bipartisan vote of 31-9 earlier this month, the bill was defeated 5-3 in a House subcommittee after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration voiced its opposition.
On Monday, Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Maggie Cleary asked a Court of Justice subcommittee to review the bill if the administration believes “any health information or any app information” could be accessed through a search warrant. The bill appeared to set the first statewide limits on what information could be subject to a search warrant, according to Richmond’s NBC affiliate WWBT.
WWBT reported that the legislator who introduced the bill, Democratic State Senator Barbara Fevola, responded that “there is very little information that is as personal and private as your menstrual data.”
The subcommittee’s Republicans nevertheless voted to “table,” or shelve, the bill, after all three Democrats voted against doing so. The motion would require that the committee vote to reconsider the bill before taking it up again in this session; It may be introduced again in the next session.
Advocates fear surveillance, criminalization
Advocates of the bill – including the White House – condemned the vote.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement provided to the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Friday that the Youngkin administration’s stance on the bill “attacks the principles of liberty and a woman’s fundamental right to privacy in the United States.” Is.”
“A vast majority of the American people support these most basic measures and do not want their sensitive health data accessed by law enforcement,” Jean-Pierre said. “The President stands with this majority and believes that politicians should allow women to make their own health care decisions.”
REPRO Rising Virginia, a non-profit abortion rights organization, Tweeted: “There is no reason to require people to have access to personal menstrual data other than to surveil and criminalize them for pregnancy results.”
Liam Watson, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, called the Youngkin administration’s opposition to the bill “a dangerous move”.
“It is extraordinarily unsettling to see Governor Youngkin opposing a bill that would protect women from having their personal health data weaponized against them in court,” Watson said in a statement.
In a statement to NBC News, Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said: “Given that this in-state data collection is already legal in all 50 states, Democrats are deliberately distorting the bill. Harmful bill in Virginia.” For the first time, there will be limited search warrant capability.
The Youngkin administration’s opposition to the bill comes after Virginia Senate Democrats defeated several bills seeking to restrict abortion access, including a proposal for a 15-week abortion ban supported by Youngkin. Who is rumored to be considering for the presidency. (Abortion is currently legal in Virginia until the third trimester, at which point an abortion can only be secured if a number of practitioners deem the patient’s physical or mental health at risk.)
Favola told CBS affiliate WUSA in Washington, D.C., that she was inspired to write the search warrant bill after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, adding that she felt “I needed to take steps to make sure that the information women are accessing cannot be used against them or to criminalize their behaviour.
The Associated Press reported that Virginia’s Republican attorney general, Jason Meares, has said he opposes prosecuting people who seek or get abortions.
The defeat of the search warrant bill also came just days after Florida officials decided that schools would no longer ask student-athletes to share their menstrual history to play high school sports, a proposal that drew flak from the Palm Beach The county school district sparked controversy after it announced student-athletes would be able to digitally share information that could be subject to subpoenas.
Weaknesses of Period Tracking Apps
According to a 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation report, nearly 30% of women track their fertility or menstrual cycle on the Internet or on a phone app at least occasionally.
Last July, the White House warned people that Roe v. Wade, Reuters reports, should be “really careful” about tracking menstruation on an app.
The Department of Health and Human Services also issued guidance last year on how people can increase the privacy of health information stored on their phones — including location sharing and activity tracking in apps.
That guidance also notes that Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules — which protect the privacy of health information managed by certain entities, including healthcare providers — generally do not protect health information stored on personal phones or tablets. .
Marielle Gross, an academic who has studied the ethics of menstruation tracking apps, said the defeat of the Virginia bill emphasizes that personal health information stored on such apps can leave users vulnerable — especially In light of increasing abortion restrictions.
He compared the apps to “snake oil salesmen parading as healthcare”.
The business model is about exploitation, and doctors are subject to “no regulatory oversight,” said Gross, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins’ Berman Institute of Bioethics and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Bioethics and Health Law.
Period tracking apps have a history of how they use the data they collect. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it filed a complaint against Flow, a popular period- and pregnancy-tracking app, alleging that it sold its data to third parties, including Google and Facebook, while promising users their data. Shared the data of millions of users with the companies of Will be private.
Six months later, the FTC announced that it had settled with Flow and that the app would be forced to notify affected users that their information had been shared and instruct third parties to destroy that data. Yes, with other conditions.