Press Releases

Trahan, DeGette, Lee Press Top Messaging and Telecom Companies on Post-Roe Metadata Policies

LOWELL, MA – Yesterday, Congresswoman Lori Trahan (MA-03), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, partnered with Congresswomen Diana DeGette (CO-01) and Barbara Lee (CA-13), Co-Chairs of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, to send letters to leading messaging and telecommunications companies requesting information about how their metadata collection and processing practices could jeopardize women’s ability to seek out abortion care following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Phone call and messaging metadata analysis could reveal a user’s plans to obtain information about and seek abortion care by analyzing the timing, duration, and frequency of calls to abortion providers,” the lawmakers wrote. “In a post-Roe world, phone call and messaging metadata could be used as evidence to establish probable cause that someone has sought an abortion. Social graphs can be easily constructed to see who has helped these people seek abortion, leaving them vulnerable to prosecution as well.”

The metadata scrutinized in the letters refers to the data companies are able to collect about communications conducted using a device or application, including the time of a message or call, the duration of a conversation, and involved phone numbers. Since this metadata refers to information about the communication rather than the content of a message or call, it is generally viewed as less invasive and has led to bulk collection.

“However, according to multiple investigations, this metadata can be used to build strong inferences about the services and projects people are pursuing, and the people with whom they interact with most closely,” the lawmakers continued.

The letters sent yesterday were addressed to leaders at Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple, Google, Verizon, and AT&T. The lawmakers requested answers to the following questions by September 12th:

  1. Do you collect metadata about calls made or messages sent from an individual’s device? If so, how is that metadata used, how long is it stored for, and who has access to it?
  2. What kinds of controls do users have to view and delete their existing metadata? Can users opt out of future metadata storage? Can users restrict third party access to their metadata? How accessible are these controls?
  3. What additional measures, if any, have you taken to secure the storage of this metadata?
  4. Do you alert users when third party companies request phone call and messaging metadata access? Do you alert users when law enforcement requests phone call and messaging metadata access?
  5. Has your company adopted any policies to restrict the disclosure of metadata that could be used to prosecute or otherwise harass those seeking reproductive healthcare to law enforcement or private actors? What steps do you take to enforce those policies?
  6. Who is authorized or can be authorized to access the metadata you collect? Are there any limits on who can obtain access to metadata that can be used to prosecute people seeking reproductive healthcare?

Additional signers of the letters include Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Bill Foster (IL-11), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Grace Meng (NY-06), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Cori Bush (MO-01), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), and Sean Casten (IL-06).

A digital copy of the letters sent yesterday can be accessed HERE.

Yesterday’s request is the latest in a series of letters Trahan has led since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opened the door for consumer data practices to be weaponized against women accessing abortion care. She previously spearheaded a round of requests to top data brokers about their sale of data that could be traced back to women who may have sought out abortion care. Trahan also joined with more than 40 of her colleagues in demanding that top social media companies target the proliferation of abortion misinformation following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.