Facebook helps police prosecute 17-year-old for abortion – TechCrunch

Meta provided user information to police in Nebraska that led directly to the prosecution of a 17-year-old girl for alleged crimes related to an abortion, court documents show. The company could have challenged the court order, but instead gave the teenager’s direct messages to police, who are now charging the girl with three felonies for using a mail-order abortion pill and burying the aborted fetus.

According to court documents first published by Motherboard (the case itself was first reported by the Lincoln Journal-Star), a Nebraska detective “investigated concerns that a young woman … had given birth prematurely, allegedly to a stillborn child.”

He apparently did not believe the child was stillborn, although an autopsy (after exhuming the body apparently for no reason) agreed with the story, showing that the fetus had never had air in its lungs. But because it was in a plastic bag, he asked Meta to provide all of the girl’s Facebook messages, photos and other data for “statements that may indicate whether the baby was stillborn or suffocated.”

This information was provided, and messages appear to show the girl discussing taking an abortion-inducing drug. Based on this information, police raided the family’s home, seizing six smartphones and seven laptops, with data such as internet history and emails totaling 24 gigabytes. Among this, investigators hope to find evidence that a teenager ordered abortion pills.

Now the 17-year-old is being brought before the court as an adult for carrying out an abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, carrying out an abortion without a licence, concealing a body, concealing a death and making a false report.

It must be pointed out that at no time prior to receiving the messages from Facebook was there evidence of a crime other than wrongfully disposing of a miscarriage. The detective’s theory of suffocation, based solely on the presence of a plastic bag, was inconsistent with the autopsy evidence, which supported the girl’s account. Generally speaking, it seems cruel and unusual to conduct a multi-day investigation into a miscarriage and panicked disposal of remains.

Officially, the request for information was for “Prohibited acts involving skeletal remains”, although this was clearly a smokescreen for an investigation that assumed another crime without evidence. One wonders if other inappropriate burials receive similar care from Norfolk Police.

Facebook/Meta has contested court orders on user information in the past. Facebook’s policy for challenging a request for user data is that if the request does not comply with applicable law or their policies, or if it is legally deficient or too broad, the company will challenge it or tailor the information it provides. (That’s why there are many requests where “some data” is produced.)

Whether the data request authorities at Facebook were aware of these circumstances is unclear. I’ve asked the company to comment on its decision to release the data, as well as its intentions around other cases where the data could incriminate someone in states where abortion is illegal, and I’ll update this post if I hear back.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that this type of data request can and has led directly to the prosecution of individuals for abortion. Some tech companies have taken steps to protect the privacy of those seeking the procedure, though most have carefully avoided taking a strong stance, and won’t rule out complying with requests for such data. Facebook apparently placed itself in the latter camp.

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