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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Abortion ruling could scramble data privacy talks

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Below: Three Senate Democrats want answers on how Facebook applies “strikes” for violations of its ban on gun sales, and tech giants reiterate that they'll help employees pay for abortion-related travel. First:

Abortion ruling could scramble data privacy talks

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn federal abortion rights is amplifying Democratic calls to protect reproductive health data and other sensitive information — a push that could muddle negotiations with Republicans as lawmakers look to strike a deal on a bipartisan privacy law. 

Democratic officials have warned for weeks that the fall of Roe v. Wade could create fresh privacy risks for those who may become pregnant, whose information they say could be harvested and weaponized to punish people seeking abortions. Separately, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have made groundbreaking progress on efforts to pass federal privacy standards.

But key Democrats are voicing concern that a surging new privacy bill fails to sufficiently protect data related to abortions, which may emerge as a sticking point with Roe now struck down. 

In a memo circulated by Democratic staffers on the Senate Commerce Committee and obtained by The Technology 202, aides voiced concern that a bill backed by three congressional leaders “does not adequately protect against” the privacy threats posed by a post-Roe world. Tricia Enright, a spokesperson for Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), confirmed its authenticity.

According to the memo, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act “makes it harder for women to seek redress when their sensitive health data has been used against them” and would force women to “jump through arbitrary, drawn-out hoops” to sue over privacy violations. 

Democratic aides called out provisions overriding state laws and delaying when consumers can bring lawsuits against companies by four years. “During that time, all strong state privacy laws are preempted, leaving fewer enforcement mechanisms for women,” they wrote. 

Spokespeople for House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), two lead sponsors, declined to comment. 

Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.), the top Senate Commerce Republican who is leading the bill in the upper chamber, said in a statement, “As we work to finalize this legislation, we are continuing to receive feedback about how to provide strong protections for consumers’ sensitive personal information, including health care information not covered by [existing law].”

Alan Butler, executive director of the privacy group EPIC, pushed back on the criticisms, arguing that the bill has more robust enforcement measures than Europe’s landmark privacy rules, the General Data Protection Regulation.

“I think it is a really significantly stronger enforcement structure than this memo gives it credit for and the hyper-focus on the private right of action is missing the forest for the trees,” he said. 

Cantwell has been sharply critical of the bipartisan privacy bill’s enforcement mechanism, which would allow for federal regulators, state regulators and consumers to bring privacy lawsuits against companies, but for the latter only after a years-long delay. The so-called private right of action for consumers has been a point of contention in privacy talks for years.

Two other prominent Democratic lawmakers voiced concern that the bill, which advanced unanimously at a House markup Thursday, would still leave women exposed to risk.   

Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), who recently unveiled a bill seeking to protect women’s reproductive health data, said that while she was glad that Congress is finally moving on data privacy, “it’s clear that there is a lot more to do than is currently included in this bill.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a top privacy hawk, said the bill “unfortunately would not do enough to protect fundamental rights of a woman over her own body and her privacy.” In a statement, Wyden took issue with a “loophole” in the proposal exempting data that’s been stripped of personal information, or “de-identified,” which he argued could still be exploited. 

“Data that tracks phones from a doctor’s office to where individuals sleep at night would make it trivially easy to re-identify supposedly anonymous data and put women's privacy at risk,” he said.

While the bill would not apply to “de-identified data,” it would cover any information that is “linked or reasonably linkable … to an individual or a device.” Butler argued that mitigates Wyden’s concern because data that can be easily linked back to a user would likely be protected.

“The restrictions on data that they’re describing in the statute are extremely strict,” he said. 

While lawmakers have made significant progress toward passing a data privacy law, issues around abortion rights are highly polarized on Capitol Hill. 

If the Roe ruling emboldens Democrats to push for more sweeping proposals and makes protecting reproductive data a rallying cry, it could complicate talks with Republicans.

Cantwell, who is a co-sponsor of Jacobs’ “My Body, My Data Act,” told The Technology 202 in a statement that it’s “impossible to separate the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe from the need to pass strong privacy legislation.”

She added, “That’s why we also need an additional comprehensive privacy bill that gives victims who suffer serious harms and violations their day in court. A privacy right is only as strong as its enforcement.”

Our top tabs

Democrats blast Facebook for letting repeat violators of gun rule stay on site

Three Democratic senators want Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to give documentation about how the company’s strikes system applies to gun sales, as well as instructions for how content moderators should deal with guns, Naomi Nix and Elizabeth Dwoskin report. The letter by Sens. Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) comes after a Washington Post report finding that gun sellers can break Facebook’s ban on firearm sales 10 times before they’re kicked off the site.

“Facebook’s 10-strike policy is unwarranted and dangerous,” they wrote. “Giving users multiple opportunities to sell weapons that can end up in the wrong hands is a loophole that calls into question Facebook’s representations about and commitment to ending gun sales on its platform.”

Facebook parent Meta spokesman Andy Stone directed The Post to a previous statement saying that the company quickly takes down posts that break its ban on firearm sales and adds increasingly severe penalties for people who repeatedly break the rule. The company didn’t dispute the existence of the 10-strike rule.

Tech giants reiterate they’ll reimburse employees for abortion travel

Some of the companies announced new policies in May, when Politico published a draft Supreme Court opinion, while others previously had benefits for workers seeking abortions.

  • Amazon told employees in May that it would pay up to $4,000 for operations not available within 100 miles, Reuters reported. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)
  • Apple employees can continue to use a company benefit that has “allowed our employees to travel out-of-state for medical care if it is unavailable in their home state,” a spokesperson told CNBC.
  • Google reminded employees that they can “apply for relocation without justification,” the Verge reported
  • A Microsoft spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company will continue to help pay for travel expenses for “lawful medical services” where procedures are “limited in availability in an employee’s home geographic region,” the spokesperson told the outlet.

Facebook parent Meta, meanwhile, said it was working on travel reimbursements. “We intend to offer travel expense reimbursements, to the extent permitted by law, for employees who will need them to access out-of-state health care and reproductive services,” a spokesperson told the New York Times.

All eyes are on Schumer amid antitrust battle

Friends and foes of antitrust legislation are targeting Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) over legislation that aims to rein in the practices of major tech companies, Cat Zakrzewski, Will Oremus, Gerrit De Vynck and I report. The leaders of Amazon and Google have personally called Schumer, while left-leaning advocacy group Fight for the Future on Saturday drove trucks past Schumer’s homes blaring a message from comedian John Oliver calling on lawmakers to pass the legislation.

“It’s a wonky yet momentous political battle that has united an unlikely alliance of would-be trustbusters from left and right against some of the wealthiest corporations in world history,” we write. “With time running out for this Congress to pass them, those corporations are putting up the political fight of their lives.”

Schumer’s office says that anyone who calls about the legislation gets the same message — that “Schumer supports the legislation and is working with Sen. [Amy] Klobuchar and others to get the necessary votes to pass it,” Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said.

Rant and rave

Twitter users debated the digital privacy implications of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision. Our colleague Geoffrey A. Fowler:

Tech investor and advocate Ellen K. Pao:

Journalist Kevin Collier:

Journalist Tonya Riley:

Workforce report

Meta clamps down on internal discussion of Roe v. Wade’s overturning (The New York Times)

AWS employees say evidence of misconduct hides in plain sight (Protocol)

Inside the industry

‘An invisible cage’: How China is policing the future (The New York Times)

Schools are spending billions on high-tech defense for mass shootings (The New York Times)

Trending

The trans Twitch star delivering news to a legion of LGBTQ teens (Taylor Lorenz)

Daybook

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event on artificial intelligence and national security Tuesday at 4 p.m.
  • A House Science Committee panel holds a hearing on “privacy in the age of biometrics” on Wednesday at 11 a.m.
  • CSIS hosts an event on antitrust legislation Thursday at 10 a.m.

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