Although the news of the time framed this follow-up as a new tactic, it goes back decades. A 1993 Buffalo News article mentions several reports of clinic staff and clients harassing anti-abortion activist phone calls that appear to be the result of tracking enrollments. That same year, a Florida training session for activists organized by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue provided instructions on how to use people’s license plates to identify the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of clients and clinic staff. A volunteer from Operation Rescue, who was away from a clinic in Melbourne, Florida that year, told ABC News that the group used the database to “continue [clients and] send literature home “to make them” fully aware of the purpose and main focus of this site. ”
There are more examples: in 1996, a police officer in Canada was charged after using police computers to track the license plates of clients at the clinic. In 1999, the Florida Rescue Operation Targeted Abortion Clinic sued abortion activists, accusing them of using license plate tracking to harass clients and doctors. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed after the clinic’s lawyers failed to gather the necessary documentation for the case to continue. And Derenda Hancock, an advocate for the clinic that works outside of Jackson Women’s Health’s “Pink House” clinic in Jackson, Mississippi (the clinic at the center of the pending Supreme Court case and the last to operate in the state), says cameras are common there. —There is usually a live broadcast — and these images taken outside the clinic may appear on a website dedicated to monitoring doctors who offer abortions.
Anti-abortion activists have long denied that this data is being used to harass or contact people seeking abortion; they say it is used to track doctors and assess whether activism is preventing people from returning to the clinic for an abortion. Neither Texas Right to Life nor Operation Rescue, which has been renamed Operation Save America, responded to requests for comment.
But it could certainly be used that way, and Wessler of the ACLU says the potential of these images to target and harm people who abort is exacerbated by the use of facial recognition technology. . There are two possible scenarios on this front, he says: law enforcement agencies in states that ban abortion could use facial recognition databases to scan images of the clinic for residents, or private groups and organizations could use the technology themselves.
The ACLU recently resolved a case against facial recognition company ClearviewAI, banning it from selling its services to many companies. But recently the New York Times reported on PimEyes, an accurate and affordable facial recognition service that almost anyone can afford to use.
Texas and Oklahoma now have laws that allow private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helps with an abortion. Wessler says that in a world where federal statutes do not provide protection against such lawsuits, it is easy to see how, with a post-Roe by changing the laws, people seeking abortion could also be sued. This possibility, combined with the surveillance of the clinic, could have a huge creepy effect “where you have this nightmare of huge claims for damages against people who can barely afford the gas to travel to a state where they can legally abort.” he says.
Mobley is concerned that if states are able to criminalize abortion, clinics like his will be subject to even more scrutiny, as activists now living in states without operating abortion clinics seek to address to the nearest places. He recently visited the Jackson Clinic. What she saw worried her. Would Mississippi activists bring her body and megan cams?
That’s not a “yes,” Hancock says; it’s a “when”. One protester told him outside the clinic recently, “I said, you know, what are you doing when it’s done? When are we done here? And he literally said, ‘Well, we’re going to other states and shut them down.'” Roe, he says, there are no completely “safe” states for access to abortion. “It’s just a matter of how long they last.”