With the recent Supreme Court ruling that ends federal protection for abortions, we’ve seen many calls on social media to delete popular period tracking apps. While it’s nice to know when the next one is coming and it’s nice to be able to give your doctor the answer to that popular question, women in some states could end up having that data used against them in court should they seek an abortion in a state that prohibits it. Even if you travel to another state, some states have signaled that they want to prosecute you if you ever come back.
Deleting evidence of pregnancy from your phone could be a wise move, but one app in your smartphone is far from the only gadget that could rat you out to the authorities.
The Period Tracker App Is Just The Tip Of Your Digital Privacy Iceberg
What else could hurt you later? The obvious first answer is your whole smartphone. A variety of apps track your movement, especially if you use the phone for navigation on a long road trip. So, if you’re traveling out of state to do something your home state considers illegal, it’s best to leave the phone at home or power it off as much as possible. You definitely don’t want to have it on for the very last leg of the drive to a clinic.
There are many other ways to track your movements. Credit and banking records could give you away, so be sure to use cash on such a trip. There’s also a network of publicly and privately-owned license plate reading cameras around the United States that’s most often used by repo men to track down a car with late payments, but it’s sometimes used by police to get data on your movements. So, getting a friend to drive you or borrowing a friend’s car could be a good move, too. Plane, bus, and train tickets could also be used against you.
Even if you’re just researching options for abortion, mobile devices and computers collect information about you. Your router and your ISP probably also collect information about what you’ve viewed online and when. You definitely don’t want to use your car’s built-in computer to research options here or to find/navigate to a clinic. To avoid having your internet activity monitored and recorded, consider using the Tor browser. If you want to be extra careful, use Whonix in a virtual machine or from a USB drive.
If you’ve already been doing research, delete your browser history and don’t do any more research without taking the above precautions. You’ll want to do the same for any app or device you did research on.
Communicating with someone about your options? Don’t text, e-mail or call them from your phone. Use the Signal app and make sure they’re using the Signal app, too. Set Signal to delete messages after a few minutes so no record of that conversation is kept. Or, better yet, talk in person about such things with no devices of any kind in the same room with you.
Here’s a guide from EFF about maintaining your digital privacy. Read it and follow it.
Connected Vehicles Are Just As Vulnerable As A Smartphone
One thing most drivers won’t think of is the danger that comes from connected vehicles.
Like a period tracker app, there’s a lot of convenience that comes from a connected car. Heading out and it’s super hot or freezing cold out? Whip out your cell phone and tell your car to pre-condition the interior for you, and you can get in a comfortable car when you leave. Navigation and live maps, traffic information, music, and even games and movies can all come through a connected vehicle’s antenna. Many vehicles have “location-based charging” that knows what charging settings to use at home or at different public stations. When things are their worst, a connected car can call for help if you’re rendered unconscious in an accident, so there’s safety in connectedness, too.
But, there’s a dark side. If police can convince a judge that there’s a probable cause you have committed or are committing crimes, they can get a warrant that compels private companies to share information and even spy on you. And, there’s a long history of law enforcement at all levels using cars like this.
Tracking your location or getting your past location is easy, even with relatively primitive connected vehicles. Even if you have a “dumb” car, something as innocuous as Sirius XM radio can sometimes be used to track your whereabouts. More advanced connected vehicles can provide more and more data, including live audio from inside the vehicle. Vehicles with ADAS or in-development autonomous vehicle functions may even store video of where your car has been, and that video could remain on the vehicle’s onboard computers or be sent to the manufacturer. All of this information is one subpoena or warrant away from being used (and used against you — Ed.) by cops.
Charging Your EV
Another vulnerable point for EVs is charging. Even if you do everything right, charging at a Tesla Supercharger or something like an Electrify America station leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that could lead from your home to your out of state destination. Depending on your vehicle, it may be impossible to charge anonymously. I’ll cover some ways to get around that later.
It is sometimes possible to charge without leaving those breadcrumbs. One possibility is using free Level 2 J1772 charging. With J1772, your vehicle doesn’t communicate its VIN number or other vehicle information. I recommend using a free station, because a paid station requires you to give it a credit card or membership of some kind to activate, which will leave records. Free Level 3 stations using the CCS or CHAdeMO standard are more risky, but you can find free stations, often at car dealers, that don’t require you to give any personal information to get a charge. If you drive a Tesla, adapters will be needed to use those stations.
But, there’s an alternative strategy you can use if you can’t disable your vehicle’s charging stations or you need to use paid Level 3 charging stations. I’ll go through that and much, much more in Part 2.
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