How Might Your Data Be Used to Pin Charges on You?

This week’s big news in tech: Uber behaved badly. A massive document dump reveals that it knowingly broke laws to roll out its services as widely and quickly as possible. Of course, the company can blame its disgraced former CEO. “We ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done in the last five years,” reads its pious-sounding statement. Where do you come down on this? Should Uber have paid a higher price for its actions? Or was moving fast and breaking things the only way to disrupt the taxi industry? Chime in in the comments. Meanwhile, here’s this month’s update.

Surveillance in a Post-Roe America

We’ve been mapping out the implications of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which is expected to lead about half the states in the US to ban or severely restrict abortion. One thing that stands out: The technology of law enforcement is much more advanced than it was in 1973 when Roe was decided. Back then, the easiest way for police to catch illegal abortions was to raid a clinic, perhaps acting on a tip. If a woman was not caught in the act, it was very hard to prove she’d had an abortion. The doctors who performed them were the main targets.

Today there’s a huge infrastructure of surveillance enabled, in large part, by the clouds of data we all create every day. Prosecutors can subpoena location data (particularly in the form of geofence warrants, which request data on anyone who was in a particular location at a particular time), search queries, and social media posts, as well as data from fertility and health-tracking apps. A proposed EU regulation designed to make it easier to catch child sexual-abuse material could have the side effect of giving US prosecutors more power to scan phones for abortion-related messages. Not all data needs a warrant, either: Automated license plate readers could be used to provide evidence that someone drove out of state to get an abortion—or drove someone else, for which they could be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a crime.

This means online platforms will also try to ward off prosecution for inadvertently helping people get abortions. Meta, at least, has already been suppressing some abortion-related content for years. The changes in the law will likely make companies much more cautious. A preview of how this could work is what has happened to sex workers since the passing of FOSTA-SESTA, a 2018 law that allows platforms to be prosecuted for hosting content that promotes or facilitates prostitution. It’s made social media platforms, payment processors, and allegedly even food delivery apps suspend or shadow-ban sex workers. Tailoring that response state by state will be hard, so it could affect people even in states where abortion is legal.

None of these law enforcement methods are new; they’ve been used to catch criminals for years. It’s just that now people in half the country could be turned into potential criminals. It should also make you think: How might your data unexpectedly be used to pin charges on you, or on someone else?

China in the Driver’s Seat

The world is scrambling to move to electric vehicles, and as our special series reports, China is in the lead. Nearly 15 percent of new vehicles sold there in 2021 were electric, compared with 10 percent in the EU and 4 percent in the US. It already has some of the biggest EV makers, and manufacturers like Foxconn (which makes most iPhones) are pivoting into cars. Chinese firms make more than 50 percent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries and have cornered a good-sized chunk of global lithium supplies, and the country controls at least two-thirds of the world’s lithium processing capacity. It’s figuring out the thorny problem of creating a massive public charging network compatible with lots of different makes of cars—the absence of which is one of the key reasons adoption has been slow in the US.

All of which means your first (or next) EV is increasingly likely to be Chinese. “So what?” you may say. Isn’t pretty much everything you own Chinese-made? Well, yes, but consider the national security implications of having hundreds of thousands of what are essentially mobile sensing devices—very fast and heavy devices that, at least in theory, can be controlled remotely—roaming the streets, piping untold quantities of data back to their manufacturers, who are under the thumb of an increasingly heavy-handed superpower government. The West freaked out when it decided that networking equipment made by Huawei might conceivably be used for spying, and that stuff doesn’t even have wheels.

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