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.
JetBlue, American, Southwest Pilots Sue CDC Over Federal Mask Mandate
A group of commercial airline pilots filed a lawsuit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an attempt to lift the federal transportation mask mandate.
In court paperwork, the 10 commercial airline pilots — who work for American, JetBlue and Southwest — argued that the CDC issued an order “Requirement for Persons to Wear Masks While on Conveyances & at Transportation Hubs” on Feb. 1, 2020, “without providing public notice or soliciting comment.”
The pilots are asking the court to “vacate worldwide the FTMM (federal transportation mask mandate)” calling the move an “illegal and unconstitutional exercise of executive authority.”
The pilots claim that federal officials adopted the policy despite “countless scientific and medical studies and articles showing that face masks are totally ineffective.” The pilots also argue that it was enacted without “considering the impact on tens of millions of travelers and transportation workers every single day.”
Europe’s COVID Spike Has Biden Officials Concerned, Could Lead to Return of Masks
The surge in COVID-19 cases in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, is prompting urgent conversations among senior Biden health aides about the potential of the U.S. experiencing another wave this spring, according to three senior officials familiar with the matter. Over the past two years, the U.S. has experienced COVID waves similar to those in Europe — only several weeks later.
“You’ve got to at least be prepared that we may see something similar here with some differences, because there’s always differences,” said Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer. “We’ve got to not ignore it. We’ve got to monitor it very carefully.”
In recent days, officials from the White House COVID-19 task force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have met to game out how the administration will respond if cases begin to rise drastically, according to the officials.
The group has discussed the possibility of recommending communities reinstitute mask mandates indoors and how to ensure hospitals across the country are prepared for a potential spike in patients seeking care. Officials have also debated whether and when to recommend a fourth COVID-19 shot.
Americans Are Concerned About Rise of AI and Human Enhancements, Survey Finds
More Americans said they are “more concerned than excited” by the increase of artificial intelligence technology being implemented in daily life, according to a Pew Research Center survey about the rise of AI.
Although there was a more positive outlook for facial recognition, algorithms and exoskeletons, the public was much more wary about the use of computer chip implants in the brain, the future of autonomous passenger vehicles and gene editing.
The researchers surveyed 10,260 US adults from Nov. 1 through Nov. 7. Respondents were asked about six developments: facial recognition technology, social media algorithms, robotic exoskeletons, computer chip implants, driverless cars and gene editing.
Mayor Eric Adams Eyes End to Employer Vaccine Mandate Ahead of MLB Opening Day
Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday he expects to eventually roll back the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for private-sector employers — but won’t make any exceptions for star athletes in the meantime.
“We’re going to continue to peel it back,” Adams said of the vaccine rules at an unrelated press conference in Queens. “I’m going to continue to do so. But I’m not going to be rushed in based on a season schedule.”
Earlier this month Adams repealed rules that required fans at sporting events as well as patrons of indoor restaurants and other entertainment and cultural venues to show proof of vaccination. But a separate mandate, requiring private employers to verify that all their workers are vaccinated, remains on the books.
Workers Resist Mandate at Poconos Vaccine Manufacturer
Angela Giaquinto has a choice to make. “Do I take it or do I keep my job? It’s scary. I mean, we have families to provide for.”
She’s one of about 2,500 people employed at Sanofi Pasteur in Swiftwater, Pa. It’s an international pharmaceutical company that makes vaccines, and is currently working on a COVID-19 vaccine.
But a number of employees there are willing to lose their jobs rather than get the shot.
Some employees hoped with COVID-19 cases going down and restrictions easing, Sanofi would drop the mandate. The deadline is April 15. A Sanofi spokesperson tells Newswatch 16: “While the trends are encouraging, we have all experienced the up and downs of this pandemic and the rise of variants. Sanofi U.S. continues to believe that vaccination is the right course of action.”
Majority of U.S. Parents Still Want Kids Masked Up in Schools: Poll
A new poll recently found that 73% of parents in the U.S. think that schools should continue to impose mask mandates among students and staff for as long as the COVID pandemic continues.
In addition to parents wanting to keep masks in schools, the poll results showed that 37% of non-parents share that same view, while 28% of parents don’t think that school mask mandates should continue.
The survey from market research company OnePoll asked 2,000 adults, including 1,000 parents and 1,000 non-parents, about school mask mandates.
Germany to Let Virus Restrictions Expire Even as Cases Surge
The German government on Thursday defended its decision to let many pandemic restrictions expire at the weekend, even as the country hit a new record high for newly confirmed cases.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 294,931 new cases in the past 24 hours. The Robert Koch Institute said there have been a further 278 COVID-related deaths, taking the overall toll since the start of the pandemic to 126,420.
The decision to end many pandemic restrictions on Sunday, including the requirements to wear masks in public settings and limit spectators in stadiums, was criticized by the states, who can still introduce their own restrictions in virus hotspots going forward.
Canada Drops COVID Test Requirement for Fully Vaccinated Travelers
Starting next month, Canada will no longer require fully vaccinated travelers to produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the country.
Canada will still conduct random PCR COVID tests and require travelers to use the Arrive-Can app to submit information, but the required test for the fully-inoculated will be dropped April 1, CityNews reported.
For the vaccinated travelers who are randomly selected for testing upon arrival in Canada, they will no longer be required to quarantine while they wait for their results, Duclos added.
Italy to Roll Back COVID Restrictions in the Coming Weeks
The Italian government was set to announce a two-step plan on Thursday scrapping most of its coronavirus restrictions as the country nears the end of its state of emergency.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government was to meet to approve a plan to soften the curbs, a cabinet statement said. Draghi and Health Minister Roberto Speranza will hold a news conference afterwards to detail the decisions.
The moves in Italy follow other European countries where most COVID curbs have been lifted. France no longer requires face masks to be worn in most public places and allows people who have not been vaccinated into bars, restaurants and cinemas.
Molly Russell Inquest: Family Frustrated by Wait for Instagram Data
The family of Molly Russell, the 14-year-old who killed herself in 2017 after viewing harmful content online, have expressed frustration at the time taken by Meta to disclose data relevant to her death, a coroner has heard.
Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, viewed an extensive volume of material, including some linked to anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide, in the months before she died in November 2017. Her inquest will look at how algorithms used by social media firms to keep people hooked may have contributed to her death.
Oliver Sanders QC, representing Molly’s family, said the family also wanted to review 29 internal Meta documents “setting out research into the impact of self-harm and suicide of material online on teenagers.”
Amazon Closes $8.5 Billion Deal to Acquire MGM
James Bond is now an Amazon employee.
The tech giant has closed its $8.5 billion deal to acquire MGM, the home of the Bond franchise and one of the most iconic movie studios in Hollywood history, Amazon announced Thursday.
The move looks to bolster the company’s position in the entertainment world while giving its streaming service, Amazon Prime Video, even more content to fill its already extensive library. This should help Amazon challenge rivals such as Netflix (NFLX) and Disney+ in the hyper competitive streaming market.
UK Threatens Tech Execs With Jail Time if They Fail to Meet Online Safety Standards
The UK has outlined new legislation that could see top managers at tech companies sent to jail if they fail to meet the demands of regulators. The rules are part of the government’s mammoth Online Safety Bill, a new draft of which was introduced to Parliament today — a major milestone to the bill becoming law.
Tech execs could be jailed if they fail to respond to requests for information from newly-empowered regulator Ofcom “in an accurate and timely manner,” according to the bill. The latest draft stipulates that senior managers will be liable for criminal prosecution just two months after the bill becomes law (instead of two years, as previously outlined).
Investigations led by Ofcom will be tackling the broad range of offenses outlined in the Online Safety Bill. These measures include:
Face Recognition’s Staying Power
U.S. adoption of facial recognition software hit a speed bump recently when the Internal Revenue Service dropped one controversial plan, but public and private institutions are charging ahead with deploying the technology anyway.
Facial recognition systems solve thorny identification problems for government agencies and businesses, but they also raise concerns over bias and privacy, particularly since the U.S. lacks strong data regulations.
Despite the concerns, government use of facial recognition continues to grow in the U.S. and abroad.
Twenty-seven U.S. states already use ID.me’s services to assist with verifying identification for unemployment benefits and other services. And this month, Washington state said it would start using ID.me in June.
Why the Kremlin Is Still Active on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
Western political leaders have hailed decisions by tech companies to suspend or muffle Russian state media such as RT and Sputnik amid the war in Ukraine, and there’s evidence those moves are having an impact.
Yet official Kremlin accounts have largely escaped such restrictions, continuing to post freely on Twitter and other U.S.-based social platforms even as their owners rain bombs on Ukrainian cities.
With some exceptions, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok have largely treated Russian government accounts like any other user, taking enforcement actions only when their posts violate specific rules, such as prohibitions on inciting real-world violence.