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January 20, 2023

Big Brother News Watch

Tony Blair Calls for Digital Libraries to Track Vaccines — ‘You Need the Data, You Need to Know’ + 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.

Tony Blair Calls for Digital Libraries to Track Vaccines — ‘You Need the Data, You Need to Know’

Yahoo!News UK reported:

Tony Blair has called for digital libraries that can record the vaccination status of people around the world in future pandemics.

In a World Economic Forum discussion on containing the next major viral disease outbreak, the former prime minister said all countries need “proper digital infrastructure” to identify who has received vaccines.

Blair said: “In the end, you need the data: you need to know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t been. For some of the vaccines that will come down the line, there will be multiple shots. So [for vaccines] you’ve got to have — for reasons to do with healthcare more generally but certainly, for pandemics — a proper digital infrastructure and most countries don’t have that.”

Blair has long called for the deployment of tech to record vaccine statuses worldwide. In a 2021 article on “How to Vaccinate the Whole World,” Blair said “systematization of all the information involved in the vaccine rollout will provide vital data” and “allow governments to focus accurately [on] the deployment of vaccines and track progress.”

What You Need to Know About the U.S. Government’s Surveillance of Money Transfers

Gizmodo reported:

If you’ve sent a money transfer of over $500 to another person in recent years, there’s a decent chance U.S. law enforcement agencies could know about it. That’s according to new documents unearthed by The American Civil Liberties Union and The Wall Street Journal that show more than 600 law enforcement agencies reportedly had access to a database that includes more than 150 million transfer records for Americans and people from more than 20 different countries.

Officers were reportedly able to access those records, which include the full names of senders and recipients, without a warrant. In a statement sent to Gizmodo, the ACLU described the previously undisclosed monitoring system as, “One of the largest government surveillance programs in recent memory.”

​​Law enforcement agencies, from small-time local police departments to some of the largest federal policing agencies, accessed the records from a shadowy database housed in Arizona. Ostensibly, those records would help law enforcement collect evidence of fraud, money, laundering and other crime.

Critics, however, say the program vastly overstepped its reach and potentially puts at risk immigrant and low-income communities most likely to use money transfer systems.

Meta, Twitter, Microsoft and Others Urge Supreme Court Not to Allow Lawsuits Against Tech Algorithms

CNN Business reported:

A wide range of businesses, internet users, academics and even human rights experts defended Big Tech’s liability shield Thursday in a pivotal Supreme Court case about YouTube algorithms, with some arguing that excluding AI-driven recommendation engines from federal legal protections would cause sweeping changes to the open internet.

The diverse group weighing in at the Court ranged from major tech companies such as Meta, Twitter and Microsoft to some of Big Tech’s most vocal critics, including Yelp and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Even Reddit and a collection of volunteer Reddit moderators got involved.

In friend-of-the-court filings, the companies, organizations and individuals said the federal law whose scope the Court could potentially narrow in the case — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — is vital to the basic function of the web. Section 230 has been used to shield all websites, not just social media platforms, from lawsuits over third-party content.

In their filing, Reddit and the Reddit moderators argued that a ruling enabling litigation against tech-industry algorithms could lead to future lawsuits against even non-algorithmic forms of recommendation and potentially targeted lawsuits against individual internet users.

Judge Blasts James Dolan’s Facial Recognition Bans From MSG: ‘Stupidest Thing Ever’

New York Post reported:

A powerful judge blasted James Dolan’s bizarre ban on his legal enemies from Knicks games as “totally crazy” and “the stupidest thing ever,” but the billionaire nevertheless stepped up the controversial clampdown just days later, court papers reveal.

The mercurial media mogul — who reportedly has used creepy facial-recognition software to bar unwelcome attorneys and critics from entering Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall — took heat in early November over the high-tech tactics from Delaware Chancery Court Judge Kathaleen McCormick, according to little-noticed court papers.

In a sarcastic response, Judge McCormick shot back that attorneys inside Madison Square Garden’s venues might do “something as horrific as watch a play, a sporting event, order a hot dog or use the bathrooms, these sorts of threatening acts.”

TikTok’s Secret ‘Heating’ Button Can Make Anyone Go Viral

Forbes reported:

For years, TikTok has described its powerful For You Page as a personalized feed ranked by an algorithm that predicts your interests based on your behavior in the app.

But that’s not the full story, according to six current and former employees of TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, and internal documents and communications reviewed by Forbes. These sources reveal that in addition to letting the algorithm decide what goes viral, staff at TikTok and ByteDance also secretly hand-pick specific videos and supercharge their distribution, using a practice known internally as “heating.”

Sources told Forbes that TikTok has often used heating to court influencers and brands, enticing them into partnerships by inflating their videos’ view count. This suggests that heating has potentially benefitted some influencers and brands — those with whom TikTok has sought business relationships — at the expense of others with whom it has not.

There is a fraught history of tech platforms using their discretion to increase specific posts’ reach. Human curation has helped platforms create safe experiences for children and keep misinformation in check, but it has also led to claims that companies use curation to impose their own political preferences on users.

Are Your Own Devices Inadvertently Spying on You?

Fox News reported:

Is it “Big Brother” or your phone that you should worry about? The constant assault on privacy seems unavoidable in this digital age. When you think of being spied on, it’s easy to think of the devices shared in “How to find out who’s spying on you.”

Yet as you educate yourself against some obvious culprits invading your privacy, it might be hard to imagine that one of the most invasive entities is a product you use daily: your smartphone, computer or tablet.

Part of the appeal of such an intelligent device is that the phone and the apps it hosts collect information on your preferences and behaviors to anticipate your needs and make your life easier. However, a slew of apps does not need access to certain functions of your device or data to perform as needed.

While manufacturers have made strides to help people identify when their cameras and microphones are being used, it is up to you to take the extra step to safeguard yourself. iPhones have indicators at the top right corner that notifies you with a green dot when the camera is being used and an orange dot when the microphone is being used.

Plane Wastewater Study Shows How COVID Travel Restrictions Failed

U.S. News & World Report reported:

Wastewater research isn’t for the squeamish, but it can get to the bottom of questions about such things as the effectiveness of COVID-19 air travel restrictions.

Tests of toilet tank water from flights entering the United Kingdom helped Welsh scientists determine that steps meant to keep the virus from traveling among countries appear to have failed.

For their study, the researchers tested the toilet tank water taken from long- and short-haul flights entering Britain at three airports — Heathrow, Edinburgh and Bristol — between March 8 and March 31, 2022. During those three weeks, almost all planes had SARS-CoV-2 in their wastewater samples. The virus was also found in wastewater at arrival terminals.

During the study period, on March 18, 2022, a requirement that unvaccinated passengers get tested for COVID before departure and two days after arrival was lifted. Researchers saw little difference in the wastewater before and after that date.

Japan to Lower COVID to Flu Status, Further Easing Rules

Associated Press reported:

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday announced plans to downgrade the legal status of COVID-19 to the equivalent of seasonal influenza in the spring, a move that would further relax mask-wearing and other preventive measures as the country seeks to return to normalcy.

Kishida said he has instructed experts and government officials to discuss the details of lowering COVID-19′s status. A change would also remove self-isolation rules and other anti-virus requirements and allow COVID-19 patients to seek treatment at any hospital instead of only specialized facilities.

In Japan, COVID-19 is currently categorized as a Class 2 disease, along with SARS and tuberculosis, and is subject to restricting movements of patients and their close contacts, while allowing central and local governments to issue emergency measures. Downgrading it to Class 5 would mean scrapping those rules.

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