A Nebraska teen is facing felony charges for seeking an abortion after Facebook turned her personal messages over to a detective

·3 min read
Containers of the medication used to end an early pregnancy sit on a table inside a Planned Parenthood clinic, Oct. 29, 2021, in Fairview Heights, Illinois.
Containers of the medication used to end an early pregnancy.Jeff Roberson/AP
  • A Nebraska woman and her mother could face felony charges for seeking an abortion.

  • Local police found out the woman, who was 17 at the time, had messaged her mother about it on Facebook.

  • Facebook turned the personal messages over after a search warrant was served on the company.

A Nebraska woman could face jail time for seeking an abortion illegal under Nebraska law after Meta turned over her personal Facebook messages with her mom to a local detective.

Madison County, Nebraska prosecutors alleged that Jessica Burgess gave her daughter Celeste, who was 17 at the time, abortion medication, instructed her on how to safely use it, and helped her bury the aborted fetus, according to court documents sourced by NBC News.

Meta's turnover of personal messages related to an illegal abortion investigation marks one of the first times the company has complied with such a search warrant,  NBC News reported. It also comes as federal and state laws have tightened around abortion access, and as digital rights advocates warn of more cases where authorities will seek non-encrypted messages as evidence that someone sought an abortion.

Celeste Burgess was charged with two misdemeanors and a felony, and her mother was charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors. The charges stem from performing an abortion, providing false information to authorities, and "concealing a body," according to court documents.

Police alleged that Celeste Burgess was close to 23 weeks pregnant. They claimed that in chats, Jessica Burgess instructed her daughter on how to use the medication and that they discussed getting rid of the fetus.

Detective Ben McBride of the Norfolk Police Investigations Unit wrote in an affidavit that police first received a tip from Celeste Burgess' friend and in June, police served a search warrant on Meta to access the teenager's personal messages.

A Nebraska state law codified before the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade makes it illegal to seek an abortion 20 weeks after fertilization.

"I obtained and served a search warrant to Facebook/Meta Platforms for information on C. Burgess and J. Burgess' accounts," McBride wrote in the affidavit. "On 04-20-22 (2 days prior to the miscarriage/stillbirth) J. Burgess and C. Burgess exchanged messages concerning some pills J. Burgess received for C. Burgess to take."

"I know from prior training and experience, and conversations with other seasoned criminal investigators, that people involved in criminal activity frequently have conversations regarding their criminal activities through various social networking sites, i.e. Facebook," McBride added in an application for the search warrant.

In response to Insider's request for comment on the case, a Meta spokesperson said they weren't aware the warrants were related to an abortion.

"Nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court decision, mentioned abortion," a spokesperson for Meta told Insider. "The warrants concerned charges related to a criminal investigation and court documents indicate that police at the time were investigating the case of a stillborn baby who was burned and buried, not a decision to have an abortion."

The Norfolk police department did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

But the search warrants raised concerns among digital privacy advocates, especially as states begin to bring law enforcement into abortion investigations.

"This is going to keep happening to tech companies that store significant amounts of communications and data," Jake Laperruque, deputy director of surveillance at the Center of Democracy and Technology, told NBC. "If companies don't want to end up repeatedly handing over data for abortion investigations, they need to rethink their practices on data collection, storage and encryption."

Read the original article on Insider