Nebraska abortion case reveals ‘nothing is beyond’ Big Tech, within reach of law enforcement


TYoung Celeste Burgess was eager to “get the ‘thing’ out of her body,” Nebraska law enforcement claims.

In a private conversation with her mother Jessica Burgess on Facebook Messenger in April, the 17-year-old said she “could finally wear jeans” after terminating her pregnancy, according to a police affidavit.

The posts, subpoenaed by Nebraska investigators from Facebook parent company Meta, allegedly show Jessica, 41, telling her daughter she got abortion pills and showing her how to use them, Lincoln Journal star reported, citing court records.

Police accuse Celeste of terminating the pregnancy at around 24 weeks – past the 20-week limit for abortions in the state – and say her mother helped her abort the child and bury the child. fetus.

They were first charged in June with one count of kidnapping, concealing or leaving a body, and two misdemeanors: concealing the death of another person and making a false statement.

After getting the text messages from Meta, police added more serious abortion-related charges against Jessica Burgess. Celeste, now 18, is being tried as an adult at the request of prosecutors.

The Burgesses’ case has sparked a furious response among pro-choice advocates who say it confirms their worst fears about Big Tech and overzealous law enforcement officials working together to violate women’s right to privacy. privacy after-Roe versus Wade.

The indignation was directed above all against Meta. The hashtag #deletefacebook was trending on Twitter on Tuesday, as were accusations of blatant invasion of privacy.

“Every woman should delete Facebook right now,” Texas activist Olivia Julianna tweeted.

The social media giant insisted in a statement that it was simply complying with a legitimate legal request and that police did not reveal in the subpoena that they were pursuing abortion charges.

Legal experts say The Independent that the fear and confusion caused by the reversal by the Supreme Court roe deer in June had “absolutely been an intended consequence”.

“People who believe in the right to life don’t care. They want the deterrent effect,” said New York criminal attorney Randy Zelin. The Independent.

The Nebraska case is an example of this new, untested legal framework, where a patchwork of contrasting state laws appears to open anyone discussing abortion care to potential legal risk.

Randy Zelin of New York firm Zelin Law says overthrowing Roe opened a Pandora’s box of legal ramifications


“I don’t want to be flippant about it because it’s such a sensitive issue. But it will stretch the rubber band of legal creativity on both the defense side and the prosecution side. It will be limitless,” he said.

He said women accused of having illegal abortions could make a case of self-defense if their lives were in danger.

“There is going to be a whole set of laws that are going to be chopped up and thrown around. Depending on which side of the aisle you’re on, it’s awful.

“Nothing is beyond the reach of law enforcement”

In April, police were told by a friend of Celeste Burgess that she had miscarried and buried the foetus. When questioned, Celeste told police she had an unexpected stillbirth in the shower in late April. She claimed she, her mother and another man helped bury the baby just outside their hometown of Lincoln on Lincoln Journal Star reported, citing court records.

The man did not contest a misdemeanor, according to the report.

The Facebook posts came to the attention of police after Celeste Burgess scrolled through them looking for the date she had a miscarriage, according to the Star review.

In a statement to The IndependentMeta said he received the subpoenas in June, ahead of the June Supreme Court ruling that ended federal abortion protections.

Meta said the warrants did not mention abortion at all and that police were at the time investigating the alleged illegal cremation and burial of a stillborn child.

The additional charges were added in July, after police seized computers and phones belonging to the mother and daughter, and accessed their private messages.

Jessica and Celeste Burgess pleaded not guilty to all charges, including covering up another person’s death and dumping a body during a hearing in Madison County court last week, KMTV reported.

Authorities also charged a 22-year-old man with helping mother and daughter bury the fetus.

In his application to the judge, Detective Ben McBride from the Norfolk Police Investigations Unit said he wanted access to the messages as they “could indicate whether the baby was stillborn or asphyxiated”.

“I know from previous training and experience, and from conversations with other seasoned criminal investigators, that people involved in criminal activity frequently have conversations regarding their criminal activities via social networking sites, at know Facebook,” he said.

The investigator also requested conversations without informing the mother and daughter because disclosure “could result in the destruction or tampering of evidence, or have an adverse outcome or effect on the investigation.”

Mr Zelin said The Independent that the Nebraska police had every right to search for the messages, because the law does not provide for an expectation of confidentiality for family communications as it would for an attorney-client or doctor-patient relationship.

Even encrypted messages on platforms such as WhatsApp, which is also owned by Meta, could be accessible to the police.

“People better realize that deleting a message doesn’t make it disappear like nothing happened. It’s amazing what people are able to recover from computers and smartphones,” Mr. Zelin: “Nothing is beyond the reach of law enforcement.”

Prosecutors could even claim that using encrypted apps to discuss abortion care was evidence of an attempt to cover up a crime, he said.

“The further you go to hide it, it will be thrown in your face like a conscience of guilt.”

Barrister Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, said The Independent that the ability of law enforcement to access encrypted messages depended on the type of encryption technology used and the location of the company owning the technology.

“The average person would probably find it very difficult to assess which type of encrypted technology is most secure against law enforcement intrusion, as law enforcement is constantly finding ways to crack codes on different technologies and they obviously don’t announce this type of thing until they have to disclose it in court documents,” Rahmani said.

As soon as the historic precedent of 1973 was overturned on June 24, privacy experts sounded the alarm that Big Tech would be used as a tool by overzealous law enforcement officials.

In a statement following the Supreme Court ruling, digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation said: “Those who seek, offer or facilitate access to abortion must now assume that all the data they provide online or offline could be sought by law enforcement.”

Among the companies that privacy advocates have raised concerns about are Twitter, TikTok, Uber, Snap and Microsoft.

Officials in states with punitive abortion laws, such as Texas and Oklahoma, have pledged to charge any woman who seeks an abortion with first-degree felony charges that carry a penalty of up to go up to 10 years in prison.

Jessica Burgess’ attorney, Brad Ewalt, said The Independent he was unable to comment while the case was pending.

Celeste Burgess is represented by a public defender, who could not be reached for comment.


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