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April 15, 2024 Big Tech Censorship/Surveillance


Biden Quietly Revokes COVID Executive Order Requiring Masks in Federal Buildings + More

The Defender’s Big Brother NewsWatch brings you the latest headlines related to governments’ abuse of power, including attacks on democracy, civil liberties and use of mass surveillance. The views expressed in the excerpts from other news sources do not necessarily reflect the views of The Defender.

The Defender’s Big Brother NewsWatch brings you the latest headlines.

Biden Quietly Revokes COVID Executive Order Requiring Masks in Federal Buildings

New York Post reported:

President Biden retracted several COVID-19 executive orders Friday — including one imposed on his first day in office to require people to wear masks in federal facilities.

Biden’s Executive Order 13991 — titled “Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing” — was issued after the wearing of face masks became heavily polarized, with outgoing President Donald Trump and his aides rarely wearing them and focusing on “reopening” from lockdowns. The order is “hereby revoked,” the White House said in a Friday afternoon announcement more than four years after the virus brought mobile morgues to New York and shut down schools and businesses across the country.

The enforcement of mask requirements long ago subsided, with the White House lifting its own internal mask requirements more than two years ago in March 2022 after the CDC adjusted its mask recommendations to account for local risk reflected by hospitalization rates.

Biden on Friday also retracted Executive Order 13998, adopted on Jan. 21, 2021, that sought to impose mask mandates on flights, trains and buses, and Executive Order 13910, adopted by Trump on March 23, 2020, to forbid the hoarding of medical supplies.

The announcement additionally terminated federal positions created to manage the pandemic. “The positions of COVID-19 Response Coordinator [vacant since June 2023] and Deputy Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response … are hereby terminated,” Biden decreed.

Big Brother in Training? How Proposed Legislation Might Pave the Way for Online Age Verification and Digital ID

Reclaim the Net reported:

Bipartisan legislative efforts are underway in the U.S. House of Representatives to adopt new versions of two laws originally drawn up to deal with the safety of youth online.

But the fear is that the bills introduced now — H.R.7891, the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), and H.R. 7890, the Children and Teens Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) 2.0 — will facilitate implementation of a future sweeping age verification and digital ID push.

These concerns are raised because KOSA is directing the secretary of commerce, together with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to conduct a study “evaluating the most technologically feasible methods and options for developing systems to verify age at the device or operating system level.”

At this stage of the proceedings, the study will not be used to mandate that platforms implement “an age gating or age verification functionality” — however, once the authorities have at their disposal the technical solutions to do it, some observers expect it could be used for a more aggressive legislative push at the federal level later on.

Regarding the way COPPA’s new version could pave the way for more expansive age verification online, it seeks to impose new forms of data collection restrictions concerning minors, and also shield them from targeted advertising.

WHO Official Testifies That Advice Against Vaccine Passports Was Ignored to Continue Digital Rollout

Reclaim the Net reported:

Dr. Hanna Nohynek, a World Health Organization (WHO) official, has told a court that her recommendation to Finland’s government during the pandemic was that the so-called “vaccine passport” was not necessary.

Nohynek, who is also the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s chief physician, testified that as the controversial schemes were being announced, her stance was that COVID vaccines were not effective in stopping the transmission of the virus, and therefore “vaccine passports,” designed to prove somebody’s vaccination status and create a checkpoint society, were superfluous.

But despite Nohynek’s stance and her role at WHO — where she chairs the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) and is also a member of the Vaccines Together and the International Vaccine Institute boards — the government ignored her.

At about the same time, the UN health agency was going ahead with plans to set up its Global Digital Health Certification Network, enabling the proliferation of digital vaccine passports, while the EU came out with its Digital COVID Certificate Regulation.

McCaughey: Biden & Co. Not Ready for Next Pandemic

Boston Herald reported:

The H5N1 virus, which for 30 years affected mostly birds, is rapidly evolving and spreading globally. The Biden administration is dangerously unready. Over the last two years, H5N1 has jumped from birds to mammals, infecting at least 26 species.

South American scientists publishing in the prestigious journal Nature Communications report massive “sea lion die-offs” and warn about avian influenza viruses “potentially evolving into the next global pandemic.”

Like H5N1, COVID-19 was full of unknowns. The federal government’s biggest mistake was to aim for an illusion of consensus rather than welcoming debate. The feds silenced anyone, including scientists, who disagreed. The result was a long string of deadly mistakes, from shuttering businesses to mandatory masking and school closures.

Worse, the CDC and the Department of Homeland Security conspired with major social media platforms such as YouTube and X (formerly Twitter) to keep the public from hearing from the government’s critics.

Censored scientists sued. The case, Murthy v. Missouri, is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Sadly, the Biden administration is taking the wrong side, claiming censorship protects the nation from “disinformation.” That’s a sign the administration cannot be trusted to tell us the truth during the next health scare.

Government Spyware Is Another Reason to Use an Ad Blocker

TechCrunch reported:

Ad blockers might seem like an unlikely defense in the fight against spyware, but new reporting casts fresh light on how spyware makers are weaponizing online ads to allow governments to conduct surveillance.

Spyware makers are reportedly capable of locating and stealthily infecting specific targets with spyware using banner ads.

One of the startups that worked on an ad-based spyware infection system is Intellexa, a European company that develops the Predator spyware. Predator is able to access the full contents of a target’s phone in real-time.

While no phone or computer can ever be completely unhackable, ad blockers can be effective in stopping malvertising and ad-based malware before it ever hits the browser. Ad blockers — as the name suggests — prevent ads from displaying in web browsers. Ad blockers don’t just hide the ads but also block the underlying website from loading the ads to begin with. That’s also good for privacy since it means ad exchanges cannot use tracking code to see which sites users visit as they browse the web. Ad-blocking software is available for phones, as well.

The U.S. Government Has a Microsoft Problem

WIRED reported:

When Microsoft revealed in January that foreign government hackers had once again breached its systems, the news prompted another round of recriminations about the security posture of the world’s largest tech company.

Despite the angst among policymakers, security experts, and competitors, Microsoft faced no consequences for its latest embarrassing failure. The United States government kept buying and using Microsoft products, and senior officials refused to publicly rebuke the tech giant. It was another reminder of how insulated Microsoft has become from virtually any government accountability, even as the Biden administration vows to make powerful tech firms take more responsibility for America’s cyber defense.

That state of affairs is unlikely to change even in the wake of a new report by the Cyber Safety Review Board (CSRB), a group of government and industry experts, which lambasts Microsoft for failing to prevent one of the worst hacking incidents in the company’s recent history. The report says Microsoft’s “security culture was inadequate and requires an overhaul.”

Meta’s ‘Consent or Pay’ Tactic Must Not Prevail Over Privacy, EU Rights Groups Warn

TechCrunch reported:

Nearly two dozen civil society groups and non-profits have written an open letter to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), urging it not to endorse a strategy used by Meta that they say is intended to bypass the EU’s privacy protections for commercial gain.

The letter comes ahead of a meeting of the EDPB this week that is expected to produce guidance on a controversial tactic used by Meta that forces Facebook and Instagram users to consent to its tracking.

Many of the signatories, which include the likes of EDRi, Access Now, noyb and Wikimedia Europe, signed a similar open letter to the EDPB in February. But the Board is expected to adopt an opinion on so-called “consent or pay” (A.K.A. “pay or okay”) as soon as this Wednesday, so this is likely the last chance for rights groups to sway hearts and minds on an issue they warn is “pivotal” for the future of data protection and privacy in Europe.

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