Friday’s Supreme Courtdecision to overturn Roe v. Wade is one of the most devastating rulings to come out of Washington. It’s also the next step in a larger campaign to expand state surveillance and erode the right to privacy—a campaign that sex workers have been fighting for decades.

It’s not a stretch to connect abortion to sex work; Justice Samuel Alito even writes in the majority opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the right to terminate a pregnancy “could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.” As a result of our criminalization and the concurrent stigma that makes our work “illicit,” sex workers often refer to ourselves as the “canaries in the coal mine” when it comes to matters of state violence. It’s a chilling analogy; the metaphorical miner’s survival depends not only on the canary’s death, but also on the miner’s perception of the canary’s death. The metaphor ultimately fails, for unlike miners taking heed of the canary’s abrupt silence, the general population treats sex workers with indifference at best. We’re more like the low-battery beep of a carbon monoxide detector, a sound somehow more irritating than the poison.

A dim silver lining is that sex workers, fully aware that the general public is unconcerned with our well-being, have already been forced to develop strategies and guides on how to evade detection despite the heightened scrutiny, strategies that can help abortion seekers and more as the carceral state expands.

Consider this, then, a canary’s song.

In March of 2018, President Trump signed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Acts, more commonly known as FOSTA/SESTA, into law. While ostensibly designed to curb human trafficking, the practical measures outlined in the bills focus exclusively on amending Section 230, a provision in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Section 230 was intended to protect internet service providers, as well as online platforms that host third-party content, from liability for that content. FOSTA amended Section 230 by adding an exception: It would no longer protect platforms hosting any content that can be interpreted as “promotion or facilitation of prostitution.” This means if a sex worker uses an application like Instagram to advertise their services, both the worker and Instagram are liable: the worker is held to whatever laws apply in their jurisdiction, while the platform becomes responsible for what the legislation terms “reckless disregard of sex trafficking,” a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

For sex workers, Section 230 had provided a foothold, however fragile, to exist on the internet. FOSTA’s incision into the act was the first crack in a foundation that supported not only sex workers but also other marginalized, criminalized, and otherwise disenfranchised demographics. The effects of FOSTA have intensified during the past four years, rippling beyond social media and payment processors to the most quotidian of technologies. “Facilitating” sex work—language in later bills revised to “aiding and abetting”—could also implicate landlords renting to sex workers, ISPs that we use to advertise, and even, apparently, gig workers who deliver our food. (Earlier this year, even my DoorDash account fell victim to an algorithmic sweep of high-risk users.) By casting such a broad net around “facilitation,” the bill essentially outlaws sex workers’ presence on the internet by criminalizing proximity to sex work. Under this level of scrutiny, talking about sex work at all is a risk.

Because sex workers are consistently the test population for novel surveillance technologies, we identified FOSTA as an omen of the free-speech restrictions to come years before Congresswoman Ann Wagner, who wrote the bill, admitted in 2021 that she intended it to be “a model for reforming Section 230.” About three months earlier, sex workers recognized echos of FOSTA when Texas passed SB8, otherwise known as the Heartbeat Act, which targets Texans “aiding and abetting” abortion. FOSTA was always a model on which lawmakers could base similarly silencing legislation, language that the National Right to Life parroted earlier this month in a model law states could to adopt to restrict abortion.

A FOSTA-like ban would have violated Roe, but now, as with sex work, abortions are subject to state laws. This removal of federal protections gives lawmakers a path to criminalizing any online discussion about abortion, restrictions that can easily extend to include reproductive health entirely.

But even if no official FOSTA-style ruling moves forward at the federal level, these measures aren’t about the law; they’re about power.

If abortion legislation continues to mimic restrictions on sex work, Big Tech will use the artificial intelligence currently shadowbanning and suspending sex workers’ accounts to target users it suspects are seeking abortions. Because the suppression is primarily algorithmic, meaning that it’s embedded in computer code designed to improve user experience and streamline content moderation, it’s invisible to those of us using these technologies as products—in fact, it’s already happening, and it has been happening for years.

Platforms deny using these technologies to monitor and restrict sex workers’ online activity for many reasons, one of which is that they’re also monitoring yours. Targeted surveillance requires a control group, and these technologies develop by collecting and analyzing everyone’s data—by tracking keystrokes, geolocation, cross-platform activity—to identify patterns specific to us. Sex workers are typically the first demographic to be targeted because we are excellent scapegoats; we’re not only criminalized but also highly stigmatized, so the general public is less likely to hear us, let alone believe us. This treatment allows institutions to fine-tune their technology by using us as lab rats, knowing they’ll face no consequences for their actions, which they’ll deny anyway. This is about to become more acute for people seeking abortions, who will soon begin to feel the chill of someone watching over their shoulder.

Long before social media companies began targeting sex workers, financial institutions had been freezing our accounts and seizing our funds by monitoring our cashflow. Sex workers have informally reported deplatforming from services like PayPal since the early ’00s and bank account closures for even longer. One of the most disturbing aspects of this financial discrimination raises the question: How do they know?

Similar to the way Big Tech identifies user patterns, banks monitor account activity to target potential liabilities. Shifting funds between accounts, using cryptocurrency, and frequently depositing and withdrawing cash are red flags to financial institutions that have been preying on sex workers since women gained the right to open a bank account. Abortions are likely to function primarily on a cash economy, but we must keep in mind that cash becomes less safe as we reveal more about how we use it. For people seeking abortions, it’s best to keep every transaction in the shadows. Even if you avoid detection and keep your account, the state can subpoena your records, and institutions will provide them.

Additionally, many traditional methods for maintaining relative anonymity on the internet are likely to begin to evaporate. Consider that institutions subject to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires libraries and schools to block access to content that may be “harmful to minors,” will have to decide whether to allow public access to abortion information.

Mass surveillance is so normalized that the basic ways we function in the world ultimately help these technologies become more sophisticated. If you are seeking, providing, or facilitating an abortion, you can take practical measures to secure your digital footprint: perform risk assessments, communicate via Signal and enable disappearing messages, use a VPN on your smartphone and computer, use DuckDuckGo instead of Google, acquaint yourself with existing surveillance technologies like traffic cams, facial recognition, and data scraping, enable two-factor authorization, log out of all your accounts (yes, even when using an incognito browser), only connect to Wi-Fi in public places that don’t require you to authenticate yourself, move money out of third-party apps immediately (and eat the transfer fee), use cash or prepaid cards when you can. Do as much organizing offline as possible.

If you organize publicly, post nothing that could be used to dox you. Some precautions I’ve taken for my own safety as a sex worker include withholding my birthday, age, ethnic background, hometown, current city, former cities, commute, alma maters, graduation years, time zone, weather, current employers, past employers, even my favorite color. When I post photos, I photoshop out my face and tattoos, and I never reveal my natural hair. If I post a screenshot, I crop out any time stamps.

I know this sounds paranoid. These precautions seem excessive; the algorithms seem dystopian. But the oppression these technologies reproduce is insidious and ubiquitous, and those seeking to surveil us have been refining the tools to do so for a very long time. This is exactly why sex workers are preyed upon first: because those in power know nobody will listen to us until you’ve already googled “two weeks late for period.”

When I begin to wonder why people behave the way they do, I answer the query with a question: “What’s seven minus yellow?” Unanswerable and, more importantly, irrelevant. I can’t deduce others’ motives, and even if I could, their motives do not matter when it comes to the effects of their actions. To ruminate on this is, at best, a waste of time, and in the wake of Roe, hemming and hawing over the justices’ intents is the equivalent of bringing a feather to a knife fight.

That said, we can dissect these decisions and try to divine how this legislation will impact us. The first step is to abandon any lingering trust you may have in the integrity of the state.

Neither the intent nor effect of FOSTA or Dobbs is to eradicate sex work or abortions, which have existed for millennia and will continue to exist regardless of legality. Remember: these measures aren’t about the law; they’re about power. Such laws slowly and systemically exclude certain demographics from participation in society by codifying what cultural biases already enforce. Consequently, while some people will face arrest, and many more will live the nightmare of carrying an unwanted or unviable pregnancy to term, the widest-reaching effects of this legislation will be the chilling of free speech and the systemic deplatforming of abortion activists from social media and financial institutions, which will protect themselves from liability at our expense.

The bad-faith arguments that structure these laws become much more apparent when read for what they are: propaganda. FOSTA, for instance, focuses primarily on fighting the “sexual exploitation of children.” Sex work and human trafficking, rather than existing together under the umbrella of “the sex trade,” are diametrically opposed. The dangerous rhetoric conflating them—a linkage that makes about as much sense as comparing a Hershey Park employee to an enslaved cocoa farmer—means that violence against us gets perceived and excused as protecting children from traffickers.

Likewise, the pro-life rhetoric that enabled the Dobbs decision focuses on protecting, in this case, hypothetical children from death. Echoing FOSTA, Alito claims that Dobbs is intended to protect the “potential life” of embryos and fetuses, even at the expense of the mother’s existing life. Intent aside, the result is that many more fetuses—as well as the people carrying them—will die.

Sex workers can offer valuable insights into this fight and those likely to follow, but our voices have been suppressed. Hopefully tech workers will practice what they preach and start listening to sex workers, but if not: Well, that’s by design. In the words of Bardot Smith: Whores told you.