Facebook gave teen’s DMs to cops prosecuting her for abortion

The case is one of the first known examples of police seizing Facebook user data as part of an abortion investigation.

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Google said Friday that it would delete abortion clinic visits from the location history of its users, in the company’s first effort to address how it will handle sensitive data in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

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Facebook gave a Nebraska teenager’s Facebook messages to police investigating an alleged abortion, leading to criminal charges for the teen and her mother, Forbes reported

Celeste Burgess, 17, was charged in July with allegedly removing, concealing or abandoning a dead body and hiding another person’s death following what authorities say was a medication abortion when she was 23 weeks pregnant. Her mother, Jessica Burgess, is also facing charges for allegedly helping her end the pregnancy. Both women’s charges stem from a Nebraska state law banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  

Burgess’s case is one of the first known examples of Facebook user data being used to charge violations of state-level abortion law since federally protected abortion access was repealed with the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, according to Forbes, though the abortion allegedly took place in April.

News of Burgess’ charges comes just a few weeks before Texas’ ‘trigger law,’ which criminalizes abortion in virtually all cases without exceptions for rape or incest, becomes active on Aug. 25. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the trigger law’s official first active day late last month, following the Supreme Court’s June 24 opinion in a Mississippi abortion case overturning Roe v. Wade. Experts warned in July that enforcement of Texas abortion bans would likely involve surveillance of people’s online activity. 

The Norfolk Police Department’s investigation began after a tip that Burgess and her mother had buried the fetus in secret, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. Burgess told police that she’d miscarried, but they continued to investigate, eventually serving Facebook with a search warrant for Burgess and her mother’s DMs. 

Police say that they found an exchange of messages, reportedly obtained by Motherboard as part of the court documents, between the two detailing how they carried out Burgess’s abortion on their own, in secret.  

A Facebook spokesperson told Forbes that they could not immediately comment on the case. 

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