US House Democrats Push Meta On Sharing Abortion Data

Letter Requests Briefing on Social Media Giant's Alleged Handling of Abortion Info
US House Democrats Push Meta On Sharing Abortion Data

Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee say Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg must clarify his company's role in a Nebraska criminal investigation into a medically induced abortion and its future intentions on sharing user conversations about abortion.

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Lawmakers today sent a letter asking the Meta to brief the committee within the next three weeks following reports the company turned over private messages discussing abortion sent via Facebook between a mother and daughter.

Jessica Burgess, 41, and Celeste Burgess, 18, have pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges - including concealment of human remains - brought by Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith. Jessica Burgess faces a felony charge of performing an abortion past 20 weeks of pregnancy, which is illegal under Nebraska law.

Facebook says state law enforcement made no reference to abortion in its June 7 warrant. "Court documents indicate that police were at that time investigating the alleged illegal burning and burial of a stillborn infant," the company says.

Committee Democrats say it's a matter of time until more prosecutors ask the social media giant for user data referencing abortion given the Supreme Court's June decision to overturn precedent guaranteeing nationwide access to abortion. A dozen states have since implemented full bans on abortion, additional states have imposed partial bans and others are seeking to implement new restrictions on reproductive health.

"The security and treatment of personal and private information on your platform is more crucial than ever," lawmakers write.

Law enforcement could request a broad range of data that goes beyond individuals who discuss obtaining an abortion, the letter says. "It is completely foreseeable that Meta may be asked to turn over other sensitive data based on conversations related to assisting a friend or family member with transportation to obtain an abortion or providing money for cab fare or hotel accommodation."

Letter signatories include Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chairwoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo of California and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGette of Colorado also signed the letter.

Facebook has also been at the center of controversy - and class action lawsuits - involving the use of the company's Meta Pixel tracking code in the patient portals and websites of dozens of healthcare organizations. The code allegedly sends to Meta search and scheduling information that patients enter into these sites, including information pertaining to sensitive healthcare services (see: Facebook Slapped With Another Health Data Privacy Lawsuit).

Meta did not immediately respond to Information Security Media Group's request for comment on the letter and its demands.


About the Author

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Executive Editor, HealthcareInfoSecurity, ISMG

McGee is executive editor of Information Security Media Group's HealthcareInfoSecurity.com media site. She has about 30 years of IT journalism experience, with a focus on healthcare information technology issues for more than 15 years. Before joining ISMG in 2012, she was a reporter at InformationWeek magazine and news site and played a lead role in the launch of InformationWeek's healthcare IT media site.




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