Biden executive order on abortion access aims to address privacy issues

It's not clear what policy changes may come from the order.

Kevin Lamarque / reuters

The Biden White House took a step toward shoring up some of the privacy issues that have been raised following the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. In a new executive order addressing abortion access and other issues, the White House suggested that it’s trying to increase privacy protections for people seeking reproductive healthcare, though it’s not clear what policies may change as a result of the action.

The order points to “the potential threat to patient privacy caused by the transfer and sale of sensitive health-related data and by digital surveillance.” And it offers some guidance to other agencies, like the FTC, though it stops short of proposing new regulations.

Instead, the order seems to leave much at the discretion of the FTC and the Department of Health and Human Services. For example, it says the chair of the FTC is “is encouraged to consider actions … to protect consumers’ privacy when seeking information about and provision of reproductive healthcare services.” It also states that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services should “consider actions to educate consumers on how best to protect their health privacy and limit the collection and sharing of their sensitive health-related information.”

Biden’s executive order comes after privacy advocates and activists have warned that the lack of federal privacy regulations could have dire consequences for people seeking abortions post-Roe. Period tracking apps have gotten outsize attention, but experts say the issue runs far deeper than just one type of app. And while the executive order doesn’t touch on issues like data brokers or the vast collection of personal information by tech companies, the issue has gotten the attention of Congress. On the same day as Biden's executive order, a group of Democrats from the House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into five data brokers and the companies behind five popular cycle tracking apps.