In This Episode
- A teenager and her mother are facing criminal charges for allegedly violating Nebraska’s abortion ban, and police used their Facebook direct messages as evidence to charge them. Sara Morrison, senior reporter for Vox’s Recode, tells us how easy it is for law enforcement to obtain your personal data from the internet and use it against you — even when it comes to making a health care decision like abortion.
- And in headlines: Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was charged under that country’s anti-terrorism laws, nearly 4,500 school staffers in Columbus, Ohio went on strike, and Dr. Anthony Fauci announced he will officially step down from public service in December.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: Security and Privacy Tips for People Seeking An Abortion https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/06/security-and-privacy-tips-people-seeking-abortion
- Vox: “Should I delete my period app? And other post-Roe privacy questions.” – https://www.vox.com/recode/2022/7/6/23196809/period-apps-roe-dobbs-data-privacy-abortion
- Vox: “What police could find out about your illegal abortion” – https://www.vox.com/recode/23059057/privacy-abortion-phone-data-roe
- Vote Save America: Fuck Bans Action Plan – https://votesaveamerica.com/roe/
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For a transcript of this episode, please visit crooked.com/whataday
Josie Duffy Rice: It is Tuesday, August 23rd. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi and this is What A Day, the podcast that is a safe space to stay away from spoilers for HBO’s House of the Dragon.
Josie Duffy Rice: This is also a safe space for Game of Thrones spoilers because I never watched that show.
Priyanka Aribindi: Watched it all in a month. Do I remember any of it? Not at all.
Josie Duffy Rice: A lot of people die. There was like a red thing.
Priyanka Aribindi: Weird show. Weird show.
Josie Duffy Rice: Weird show. Weird show. [music break] On today’s show, Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling it a career. Plus, the Justice Department is opening a civil rights probe into a police beating in Arkansas.
Priyanka Aribindi: But first, summer is ending and many college students are returning to campus. Some will head back to class in states that now ban abortion, with very few exceptions. Many students who recently spoke to the Associated Press said that they’re worried about what they might have to do if they unexpectedly get pregnant. As a result, they said that they plan on being much more cautious and using birth control, and they’re also looking at their options if that doesn’t work, even if it means leaving the state to get abortion care.
Josie Duffy Rice: So with access to the procedure questionable, many will likely turn to the Internet for help. But there’s a story out of Nebraska that speaks to how that path could be dangerous for folks seeking an abortion in states where the procedure is banned or heavily restricted.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So a couple weeks back, we talked about how a teenager and her mom are currently awaiting a criminal trial for allegedly violating their state’s abortion ban. Police had been investigating this teenager since late April when she told police that she had a stillbirth when she was 23 weeks pregnant. In Nebraska, abortion is illegal after 20 weeks, and it has been for over a decade.
Josie Duffy Rice: Authorities began investigating her after getting a tip from one of the teenager’s friends. “Friends”. I’m doing the–
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Big air quotes.
Josie Duffy Rice: Big air quotes. Who said they saw her take an abortion pill around that time. Then in June, police served Meta with a search warrant to get her direct messages on Facebook. Meta complied and found a conversation between her and her mother. Police say that in that conversation, the mother explained how to take abortion pills around the time that the stillbirth was reported. So now that teenager faces charges for allegedly concealing a death and illegally disposing of human remains, and her mom has been charged alongside her for obtaining the pills that she allegedly used to induce a miscarriage.
Priyanka Aribindi: So now Meta, which is Facebook’s parent company, released a statement earlier this month saying that the search warrant didn’t mention abortion at all. Just that Nebraska police were investigating the alleged illegal mishandling of a stillborn infant. But obviously, this story is incredibly chilling. You know, as people who use the internet speaking to what I presume are several more people who use the internet.
Josie Duffy Rice: Internet and data privacy advocates have warned that this sort of scenario could become more common in a post Roe world. Even though the teenager in this case allegedly had an illegal abortion before the Supreme Court decision, her case has major implications nationwide, especially for people living in states with newly enacted abortion bans.
Priyanka Aribindi: So we spoke with reporter Sara Morrison from Recode, who we’ve had on the show before about how easy it is for law enforcement to obtain your personal online data and to use it against you, even when it comes to making a health care decision like getting an abortion.
Sara Morrison: It’s as easy as getting a warrant. If you’re suspected of doing something illegal and they have cause that they can get evidence of that from your Facebook messages or whatever else. Even in the affidavit for this, the officer said it is you know based on my knowledge and experience that people who engage in criminal actions often post about them on social media. It’s easy to do, and it’s done probably quite frequently at this point. And, you know, the police know that these are rich sources of evidence.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So in this case, you know, it was a friend of the daughter’s. I mean, maybe like quote unquote “friend,” doesn’t really sound like a great one, who informed law enforcement of the situation. Is that normally how cases like this start? You know, what are the other ways that law enforcement can learn about abortion related crimes, things that they’ve made crimes?
Sara Morrison: I mean, I’m sure there’s a lot of ways. I think there was one sort of investigation about this kind of thing happening where it was even maybe the doctor or nurse who went to the police.
Priyanka Aribindi: Wow.
Sara Morrison: I mean, in this particular instance, though, it wasn’t like the police just went to Facebook and got this. That’s not where the investigation started. It was just part of it.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. The doctor thing is really scary.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: This idea that health care professionals, you know, you don’t know who you can trust.
Sara Morrison: I mean, again, if that the Department of Health and Human Services has kind of issued some new guidance because of the decision. But you know that health privacy laws don’t necessarily apply. If your medical provider believes that there’s a crime involved, they can go to the police about that.
Josie Duffy Rice: The warrant in this case was issued before was overturned, like you mentioned. And shortly after the SCOTUS decision, Meta and other social media companies said that they would like make efforts to keep user data safe, etc., etc.. But I think this underscores this very sobering reality online, like communicating about what should be a basic health care procedure is now very risky. And so aside from changing their own policies, like what should they be doing to protect us.
Sara Morrison: This particular situation is a little different because according to Meta, they didn’t even realize they were being asked for evidence of an illegal abortion. This isn’t exactly a thing where, like this evil company gave away all this information that they didn’t have to. They had to give it away. They didn’t realize it was about an illegal abortion. But that said, like, even if it was if, you know, police have a court order and that information is there for them to get. They’re gonna likely have to give it away. I think I’ve seen other companies sort of say, well, we’re not going to keep information about location data about certain places where abortions might happen, that that’s the compromise we’ll make, like they’re still collecting that information. So I think if Facebook, you know, automatically encrypted the messages or if they just didn’t collect that data in the first place, there just wouldn’t have been anything there for the police to get from Facebook, you know, in the first place. These companies are incentivized to collect this data, incentivized a lot. They’re not going to stop if they don’t absolutely have to, which they don’t. They’ll give in a little and say, well, we won’t collect this data or will automatically erase it after we collect it. There’s still a lot of easy ways to game that.
Priyanka Aribindi: Can you remind us on the other hand, you know what legislation, if any, is in the works to kind of protect user data from being used in criminal investigations like this?
Sara Morrison: I mean, there’s always legislation in the works, but, you know, it kind of just stays there. I think Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon has been trying to get a law passed that says the police can’t buy location data and sort of buy their way around the Fourth Amendment, which they do now because they can. There was My body, My data act by a representative, Sara Jacobs, which would make, I think, the collection of certain kinds of like health data, reproductive data protected. There’s also just privacy laws in general that certain people I’ve been trying to push forward that would maybe limit or give us more control over all of the data, not just health data, not just reproductive data that’s collected. Some of these things have gone further than others. Most of them have gone not very far at all. Um and we’re still waiting for any of them to happen. I’ve been covering like this data privacy for two and a half years, and I started the beat being like, obviously a law will be passed soon because clearly it’s an issue. Still nothing so.
Josie Duffy Rice: Like it’s not being passed right? Because tech stands to gain a ton of money from data collection. Is that the reason that we’re not, like, more careful about this?
Sara Morrison: I think tech companies actually do want there to be a law that passes because they’d rather have there be a federal one than what’s happening right now, which is a bunch of states passing them. It’s a lot easier to just deal with one than, you know, 50. They also want the law that is passed to be one that is good for them. And it’s my understanding that the biggest problem is that you have like generally Republicans have a couple of things that they want to happen. Democrats have a couple of things that they want to happen, and they just haven’t quite been able to, like, resolve those.
Josie Duffy Rice: We sort of talked about this before, but with all of this being said, it sounds like it is up to us to safeguard our privacy online. So what can people do to protect themselves?
Sara Morrison: I mean, this is like really tricky because there is an entire ecosystem and like apparatus that is built on collecting your data. There are a lot of things you can do, I think, to minimize it. I don’t ever want to say these things will definitely do what you want them to, because it seems like these companies always find a way around some of these things. So that said, if you’re direct messaging somebody on Facebook about a crime, I would A.) like not do that, but B.) encrypt your messages so that, again, if the police want to get that data, they can’t get it from Facebook. They might be able to get it from your specific device. But at least that data is in your custody. You have some control over it. Don’t carry your phone with you. Uh your phone is just a massive source of all kinds of data that gets sent out, even when you don’t think or don’t know that it does. So the stuff where like location data gets sent to say Google or all these data brokers. You have to, I guess, measure what’s the most, I guess, convenient or livable situation for you with your paranoia about being uh watched or tracked. I think a lot of people have different thresholds for what that should be.
Josie Duffy Rice: We’ll link to this story, Sara’s work and advice about keeping your data safe in our shownotes, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.
Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s get to some headlines.
Josie Duffy Rice: State police in Arkansas are investigating three law enforcement officers who were captured on video badly beating a restrained man on Sunday. They include two sheriff’s deputies who have since been suspended from active duty and a police officer who is on administrative leave. If you’re keeping track, all three of those law enforcement officers are currently getting paid their full salary. The video was taken by a bystander and shared extensively on social media. And it goes without saying that it is really, really hard to watch. It shows one officer repeatedly punching the man and even throwing his head against the pavement. Later, another officer appears to knee the man in the back as he’s pinned to the ground. This all happened in the town of Mulberry, which is about 140 miles from Little Rock. Police, the same police said that 27 year old Randal Worcester of South Carolina allegedly threatened a convenience store worker. When officers confronted him, he pushed one of them to the ground and punched him. Worcester was arrested and then taken to the hospital and later sent to jail. He is accused, among other things, of making those threats, resisting arrest and also faces assault charges. You know who doesn’t face assault charges at this moment, Priyanka?
Priyanka Aribindi: Are these cops?
Josie Duffy Rice: The three cops that beat him.
Priyanka Aribindi: Mmm. Of course.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s funny how that works. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said Monday the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will conduct their own investigations.
Priyanka Aribindi: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan was charged with terrorism yesterday following a speech to his supporters last Saturday. During that address, he accused police of arresting and torturing his close aide and vowed to sue them. In response to that, authorities dialed up their reaction to the max and said that he threatened officials in a way that violated the country’s anti-terrorism law. Khan is expected to go to court on Thursday to try and get these charges dismissed. He was ousted in a no confidence vote last April and he’s been working to get back into office ever since. It doesn’t really seem like that is helping that case. Sadly.
Josie Duffy Rice: If you’re ousted in a no confidence vote, I don’t know that working to get back into office is your best move.
Priyanka Aribindi: [laughin] Is this really going to work out for ya?
Josie Duffy Rice: Over in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday:
[clip of school staffers protesting in Columbus, Ohio: Whose school? Our school. Whose school? Our school.
Josie Duffy Rice: Nearly 4500 school staffers hit the picket lines just days before the start of the new year. Their union represents teachers, librarians, nurses and more. And on Sunday night, they rejected the district’s last and final contract offer. The union have been bargaining for more than just pay. Push for things like smaller class sizes as well as better maintained buildings. Here’s union spokesperson Regina Fuentes talking to local TV station WCMH:
[clip of Regina Fuentes] We do actually have to deal with vermin almost on a daily basis, you flip on the light–
[clip of WCMH TV reporter] Are you talking about mice?
[clip of Regina Fuentes] I’m talking mice. I’m talking bugs. I’m talking water dripping from the ceilings. It’s a true, real problem. We’re not making this up.
Josie Duffy Rice: I just feel like it should be a pretty basic that your kids teachers who are responsible for their education should not have to, like, see mice and roaches running around.
Priyanka Aribindi: Truly.
Josie Duffy Rice: The Columbus School District serves about 47,000 students who are supposed to start in-person classes tomorrow. But if the strike continues, then kids will lose a valuable opportunity to show off their brand new outfits because that first day will be remote and online.
Priyanka Aribindi: They’ll be fine.
Josie Duffy Rice: They’ll be fine. They don’t even know what real life is anymore. [laugh]
Priyanka Aribindi: The Fauci gang is in mourning today following the announcement that Dr. Anthony Fauci will step down in December as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. During the pandemic, we always forget about allergies. It’s always the infectious diseases. But Dr. Fauci has given us some sanity throughout a thoroughly insane time, while also providing much needed visibility for short kings. Separate from COVID, Fauci served for 38 years and advised seven presidents. Now he’s saying he’s ready to kick back and work on his memoir, which may reveal which piping hot drink scorched his vocal chords and gave him his trademark rasp. Fauci also said he’d spend time traveling and encouraging people to enter government service. You know, one of those sounds like a little more of a fun activity than the others, but you know I’m sure he can, like, send some tweets while he’s doing travel and check off both boxes.
Josie Duffy Rice: I would also like to retire, so–
Priyanka Aribindi: Same [laughing]
Josie Duffy Rice: You know if anybody out there wants to make that happen. I am down. Not that I don’t love What A Day. I’m just saying, generally.
Priyanka Aribindi: [spitting laughing] We love our job.
Josie Duffy Rice: I would like to do this as a volunteer project. Okay.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, but that, one of those volunteer projects where that woman from the show yesterday was, like, getting paid a lot of money. [laughing]
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, yeah yeah, exactly. The kind where I get paid $163,000 dollars a year.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: The only company that understands the magic of movie theaters better than Nicole Kidman. MoviePass is big news finally coming back. It’s true.
Priyanka Aribindi: Woo! Potentially great news.
Josie Duffy Rice: Potentially. Okay. So between 2017 and 2019, MoviePass offered a $10 a month subscription that let customers see an unlimited number of movies, allowing some fans of cinema and high art to experience Paddington 2 on loop.
Priyanka Aribindi: Incredible.
Josie Duffy Rice: Paddington 2 is supposed to be a really good movie.
Priyanka Aribindi: Fantastic film.
Josie Duffy Rice: That deal isn’t returning because there was virtually no way it could be profitable. Turns out movies cost a lot of money.
Priyanka Aribindi: It was a lot of popcorn to make up for that. [laugh]
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. But starting Labor Day, MoviePass will relaunch in a tiered version, which gives users credits to see a certain number of movies for either $10, $20 or $30 monthly, partly depending on where you live.
Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: How much money this will save is TBD. We’ll most definitely never return to the days of tickets that, when you crunch the numbers costs less than the change you find under any row of chairs at the movie theater. People interested in MoviePass Two can sign up for its waitlist this Thursday.
Priyanka Aribindi: I am just honestly grateful to have lived through the time that MoviePass was the open fire hydrants spewing–
Josie Duffy Rice: Totally, totally.
Priyanka Aribindi: –free movies everywhere.
Josie Duffy Rice: Totally.
Priyanka Aribindi: It was an incredible time.
Josie Duffy Rice: MoviePass Two is going to be great.
Priyanka Aribindi: I hope so. Georgia’s Herschel Walker has now demonstrated his willingness to stand up to 1000 year old plants, criticizing President Biden’s investment in fighting climate change through the Inflation Reduction Act. The Republican Senate candidate said on Sunday, quote, “They continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out, but they’re not because a lot of money, it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?” Fighting words if you’re running against The Lorax. But many observers were confused by Walker’s comments. Yesterday he doubled down on Twitter, noting that he was against the IRA’s allocation of $1.5 billion dollars to the U.S. Forest Service, Urban and Community Forestry Program. So you can maybe forgive Walker for making a comment that sounds insane on its face, but ultimately reflects the views of pretty much every elected Republican. They are all anti-tree. Walker’s war on foliage is interesting in light of the recent tension brewing between Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. After McConnell subtly nagged the current slate of Republican Senate candidates last week, Trump spoke up in their defense on his website Truth Social posting on Saturday that McConnell was a, quote, “broken down hack” with a, quote, “crazy wife”. That last part felt a little unnecessary. Presumably, Trump would stand by Walker’s statements and maybe note that like windmills, trees kill birds.
Josie Duffy Rice: If you’re listening to this and you live in Georgia or care about any of this, you should push this man to do a debate because he will not do a debate. And if he did a debate against Warnock.
Priyanka Aribindi: It would be wild. I thought you were just saying. Push this man. I was like, Josie.
Josie Duffy Rice: No.
Priyanka Aribindi: Please don’t push–
Josie Duffy Rice: No no no.
Priyanka Aribindi: –him to be assaulted on this podcast. [laughing]
Josie Duffy Rice: I mean, he’s a former football player. You can’t even push him. That’s not going to work.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, he could definitely push you back.
Josie Duffy Rice: And a final Trump update. The New York Times is reporting that the former president had a whopping 300 classified documents with him at Mar-a-Lago. Possibly more printed pages that he has read in his entire life.
Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely more printed pages and he’s ever read his entire life.
Josie Duffy Rice: The first set of 150 documents was seized in January. Then the espionage papers, volume two, were collected by the FBI earlier this month. These are the first reports we’ve heard of the total volume of classified material Trump was storing at his house.
Priyanka Aribindi: I hesitate to say that I feel bad for the guy, but it’s almost a little wild that like these are papers he almost certainly has never read [laugh] in his life because he’s like not capable of reading anything more than 160 characters.
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: He is getting slammed with this stuff. And he’s probably thinking himself like, was it even worth it? Like, I’ve never even seen these things like. [laughing]
Josie Duffy Rice: Right. Right. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go. The hosts of Imani State of Mind, Dr. Imani Walker and MegScoop Thomas are taking a deeper look at what it takes to make friendships last and what role they play in your mental health. I love this.
Priyanka Aribindi: Me too.
Josie Duffy Rice: This is really great. The ladies are also diving into the many types of relationships and the emotions that come out of them. From your spouse, to your parents, to grief and anxiety, Imani State of Mind is the show to talk about it all. Listen to new episodes of Imani State of Mind every Friday, wherever you get your podcasts. [music break] That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Count the classified documents you have in your home and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading and not just the terms and conditions of MoviePass Two like me. What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
[spoken together] And stand up for trees.
Priyanka Aribindi: They need it.
Josie Duffy Rice: They need it.
Priyanka Aribindi: They’re under assault at this moment.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Herschel Walker says we have too many trees, something that nobody has literally–
Priyanka Aribindi: Nobody!
Josie Duffy Rice: –Ever said. [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Lita Martínez and Leo Duran. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.