Bernie Sanders, the AOC, and 40 other Democrats tell Google to stop collecting location data so “far-right extremists” can’t use it to determine who performed an abortion

42 Democratic lawmakers wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai urging Google to stop needlessly collecting and retaining users’ location data. They worry that “right-wing extremists” could use the data to go after those who have had abortions.Photograph: Yves Hermann/Reuters

  • 42 Democratic lawmakers urged Google to stop needlessly collecting users’ location data.

  • They said that “right-wing extremists” could use the data to go after those who had had abortions.

  • Google said it received 11,554 requests in 2020 to share geodata with law enforcement agencies.

Dozens of Democratic lawmakers are calling on Google to stop needlessly collecting and retaining users’ location data for fear that “far-right extremists” will use the data to prosecute those who have performed abortions.

Lawmakers said in a letter addressed to Sundar, Google CEO Pichai.

The letter, dated May 24, was signed by 42 Democratic members of the House and Senate. They were led by Senator Ron Wyden and included lawmakers such as Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren.

“We urge you to immediately reform our data collection and retention practices, so that Google neither collects unnecessary customer location data nor retains any non-aggregate location data about individual customers, either in identifiable or anonymous form,” they added.

A draft Supreme Court opinion leaked earlier this month notes that the Roe v. Wade, a 1973 resolution guaranteeing federal abortion rights, could be rescinded in the coming weeks. If that happens, abortion could become illegal in 23 states.

The news raised concerns about how location data could be used to track people who visited abortion clinics. Last week, 16 Democratic senators urged the Federal Trade Commission to ensure data privacy for those seeking abortions in states where the procedure may become illegal.

In a letter Tuesday to Pichai, Democratic lawmakers said that Google collects the most detailed information through its Android smartphones. They said the combination occurs “regardless of whether the phone is in use or which app the user has opened.”

Lawmakers have used Apple as an example to prove that smartphone companies don’t have to keep users’ location data. “Americans who can afford an iPhone have greater privacy from government monitoring of their movements than the tens of millions of Americans who use Android devices,” they wrote.

Google said it received 11,554 geofencing requests in 2020

Lawmakers have emphasized that law enforcement officials often force Google to hand over data through “geofence” commands, or require Google to release data about every user who has been near a particular location at a specific time.

Their request adds to longstanding concerns about Google’s response to geofence requests from law enforcement officials. In 2020, civil rights groups also urged Pichai to decline such requests.

Google said it received 11,554 such requests from across the United States in 2020, according to data released by Google last year. This is a 37.6% increase over the number of orders in 2019, according to the data. Google did not say in the statement how many requests it complied with.

In March, a federal judge ruled that Virginia police, serving Google with a geofence order to obtain location data, had violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. NBC reported that police asked for Google’s help in identifying users who were near a robbery in 2019.

Google did not immediately respond to an Insider’s request for comment.

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