Category: NEWS

Alert: #Iran’s largest mobile network operators including MCI, Rightel and IranCell have fallen offline as of 6:00 pm (14:30 UTC) amid worsening internet shutdowns as protests intensify #IranProtests

Microsoft hires Eric Holder to audit AnyVision over use of facial recognition on Palestinians

Microsoft has hired former United States Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct an audit of facial recognition company AnyVision to determine whether it complies with Microsoft’s ethical principles on how the biometric surveillance technology should be used.

Microsoft’s venture capital arm, M12, invested in AnyVision as part of a $74 million Series A funding round in June. Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft stipulated that AnyVision should comply with its six ethical principles to guide its facial recognition work: fairness, transparency, accountability, nondiscrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance.

The last principle states, “We will advocate for safeguards for people’s democratic freedoms in law enforcement surveillance scenarios and will not deploy facial recognition technology in scenarios that we believe will put these freedoms at risk.”

AnyVision, headquartered in Israel, sells an “advanced tactical surveillance” software system, Better Tomorrow. It lets customers identify individuals and objects in any live camera feed, such as a security camera or smartphone, and then track targets as they move between different feeds.

NBC News reported in October that according to five sources familiar with the matter, AnyVision’s technology has powered a secret military surveillance project that has monitored Palestinians in the West Bank. The project was so successful that AnyVision won Israel’s top defense price in 2018 for preventing “hundreds of terror attacks” using “large amounts of data.”

Human rights activist argued that AnyVision’s work monitoring Palestinians in the West Bank was incompatible with its public statements about ethical standards for facial recognition technology.

“AnyVision’s facial recognition technology is not being used for surveillance in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, and AnyVision would not allow its technology to be used for that purpose,” said AnyVision in a statement issued to NBC News last month.


Trump asked Tokyo for $8 billion to keep U.S. troops in Japan

U.S. President Donald Trump has asked Japan to quadruple annual payments for U.S. forces stationed there to around $8 billion, Foreign Policy reported, part of Washington’s efforts to press its allies to increase their defense spending.

The current agreement that covers the 54,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan expires in March 2021.

The demand was made to Japanese officials during a trip to the region in July by John Bolton, at that time Trump’s national security adviser, and Matt Pottinger, who was then the Asia director for the National Security Council, the U.S. global affairs magazine said, citing unidentified former U.S. officials.

A Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said the report was incorrect and no U.S.-Japan negotiations on a new agreement have taken place.


Doomed: Millennial Suing His Pension Fund For Not Being “Green” Enough

Bored with just plain old protests and interrupting political events to force their climate change virtue signaling onto the world, environmentalists are now using the legal system to harass those who don’t agree with their world view or aren’t “green” enough for their liking.

That’s what Mark McVeigh, a 24 year old environmental scientist from Australia has done: he is suing the $57 pension fund he is invested in with his retirement savings for “not adequately disclosing or assessing the impact of climate change on its investments,” according to Bloomberg.

The case will determine whether or not funds are in breach of fiduciary duties by failing to make investments that mitigate climate change.

Prior to filing the suit, McVeigh had asked Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, his pension fund, how it was “ensuring his savings were future proofed against rising world temperatures”. He didn’t like the answer he was given, so now he is suing.

McVeigh said:

 “I see climate change as a huge risk that dwarfs a lot of other things — it’s such a big physical impact on the planet, and the economy.”

The fund says that climate change is one of the variety of factors it has to consider when investing on behalf of its 2 million members. Australia’s pension pool, which stands at about $2.9 trillion, is watching the case closely to see if the outcome will make it more difficult for funds to meet their already legislated minimum return targets.

Ian Patrick, chief investment officer at Sunsuper Pty, which manages A$70 billion, said: “Looking after the best financial interests of our members requires us to be conscious of the risks, but not exclude a whole segment of the economy that’s going to be very meaningful for a period of time. Right now, the interests of our members — the sole purpose of super — is what wins out.”

Other firms are also starting to act accordingly. One study by State Street Global Advisors showed that “fiduciary duty is one of the main ‘push factors’ for financial institutions to adopt environmental, social and governance principles.”

Other funds in Australia have employed “responsible investment teams” to try and mix environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors into their portfolios. They have joined global investor initiatives like United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment and have used their stakes in large companies to advocate for change.

Remember the days when you used to just choose your own investments, before the government told you what you had to invest in?

Mary Delahunty, head of impact at HESTA, said: “As soon as you remove capital, they don’t have to have a conversation with you anymore.”

Pension funds are also trying to mitigate climate risk using debt. Some funds have written loans to gas companies in the Permian Basin instead of taking equity stakes and bearing the risk of being junior on the capital structure.

Patrick continued: “Those loans deliver double-digit returns over periods of up to 10 years while the world shifts to a cleaner energy mix. It’s why we prefer debt and why we think about the tenor of that debt quite deeply. Relative to holding long-term equity in an energy asset, that addresses the risk quite substantially.”

Activism is still on the rise and banks are still shying away from investing in environmentally damaging projects, but the Australian government has moved in the other direction. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is instead “considering new laws to prevent activists like environmental lobby group Market Forces from stymieing commercial decisions and threatening economic growth.”

REST recently appointed a responsible investment manager and in June and took control of a wind farm in Western Australia.

“Specific climate-related issues which we engage with our investment managers on include carbon foot printing, stranded assets, climate-related scenario analysis and exposure to lower carbon assets,” a REST spokesperson said.

Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental, climate change and energy law at Colombia University, said: “Success in litigation breeds imitation, so if McVeigh wins, people will take a close look. People are so desperate at the failure of governments to act adequately on climate change that they’re looking for litigation targets.”

The McVeigh case makes its way to court on November 22 for a preliminary hearing.


‘I live on the street now’: how Americans fall into medical bankruptcy

It’s been over a dozen years since Susanne LeClair of West Palm Beach, Florida was first diagnosed with cancer and she’s been fighting ever since. Now she, like many other Americans facing life-threatening illness, is bankrupt despite having health insurance.

Before her first cancer-related surgery, LeClair was told by the hospital they accepted her employer-based health insurance.

“I paid my $300 copay. After the surgery, I started receiving all these invoices and came to find out the only thing covered was my bed because the hospital was out of network,” said LeClair. “My bills were hundreds of thousands of dollars, so I had no choice but to file bankruptcy.”

LeClair is on the verge of having to file for bankruptcy a second time due to the mounting medical debt she has accrued for additional cancer-related surgeries, regular appointments, medications and supplies related to her recovery, despite having health insurance and paying as much as she can out of pocket for copays, deductibles and premiums to maintain insurance.

“My medical bills are at $52,000. I’ve done everything from credit cards to consolidation loans, I just keep simply paying one credit card with another interest-free one until I can pay the next one,” LeClair added. “It’s the side of cancer most people don’t understand or know about and it’s never-ending. It just keeps adding up and adding up and before you know it you’re back in debt that you can’t believe again.”

Bankruptcy can also make it difficult to find employment given that many employers will disqualify a candidate with a bankruptcy filing found from a background check.

According to a study published in February 2019, about 530,000 bankruptcies filed annually are because of debt accrued due to a medical illness. The study found that even the Obama administration’s landmark Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) has failed to change the proportion of bankruptcies caused by medical debts, with poor health insurance cited as one of the main culprits.

Republicans and Democrats are currently at loggerheads over Trump administration plans to further weaken Obamacare by making it easier for states to opt out of certain requirements and offer cheaper plans that could further exacerbate the situation. And health insurance has emerged as one of the signature issues of the 2020 election, and the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination with senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren promising a total overhaul and Joe Biden and others pledging milder reforms. What all sides admit is that the current system is broken.


PayPal abruptly cuts off Pornhub…

Pornhub said on Wednesday that PayPal would no longer support payments to Pornhub performers (via Vice). In a blog post, Pornhub said that it was “devastated” by the decision, which cuts off the primary way it pays “over a hundred thousand performers.”

In a statement given to Vice, PayPal said that the company discovered that “Pornhub has made certain business payments through PayPal without seeking our permission. We have taken action to stop these transactions from occurring.” PayPal’s acceptable use policy also forbids “certain sexually oriented materials or services,” which, as Vice points out, is murky enough phrasing to give PayPal leeway to make decisions like this.

Pornhub tells The Verge that the decision affects performers who are part of Pornhub’s Model Program, which lets individuals upload their own videos and earn advertising revenue from those videos. The company is pointing performers toward its other payment options including check, direct deposit, the Paxum e-wallet, and the Verge cryptocurrency (no relation to The Verge). Pornhub tells us that it will “continue to add more sex worker-friendly” ways to get paid and that it’s exploring more crypto options as well.

It seems like a reach to expect the hundred thousand performers to switch over to a single type of cryptocurrency for their paychecks, though, and direct deposit may also be dicey for some: a number of banks refuse to serve sex workers, according to this list compiled by Survivors Against SESTA. Pornhub explained last year that PayPal was a key alternative to banks: “PayPal specifically is a method of payment that many people, who may not have the luxury of a bank account, rely on to get paid,” the company wrote.


Slow Death: Sports Illustrated will reduce print output to monthly….

Sports Illustrated was a weekly publication as recently as 2015. In 2020 it will become a monthly, Yahoo Finance has learned.

The magazine reduced to twice per month in January 2018. Now, just two years later, it will cut again to one issue per month in 2020—plus four special issues and the Swimsuit Issue, for a total of 17 issues in the calendar year.

Sports Illustrated staffers learned of the coming change at an all-hands meeting in October. Sports Illustrated management has also notified its printer of the plan to go monthly.

Most notably, sources close to the magazine say the “close time” for each issue will be 3-4 weeks, meaning that everything in every issue must be “closed” (all text and photos edited, complete, sent to the printer) more than three weeks before the magazine comes out.

That will meaningfully change the look and content of each issue, since stories will have to be evergreen enough to have a longer shelf life on newsstands. In addition, the iconic covers Sports Illustrated is so known for, which often show newsy photographs of a championship game or notable moment that just happened in the past week, likely won’t be possible.

Although the magazine will publish less frequently, the issues will be printed on heavier paper stock and priced higher on newsstands. And some current staffers are pleased with the new plan. “I actually like the idea, it doesn’t make sense as a weekly anymore,” says one writer at the magazine, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I think the issues will look more like Vanity Fair or Vogue.”


Baltimore mayor insists leadership is not to blame for homicide rate: ‘I’m not committing the murders’

The mayor of Baltimore says local leadership isn’t to blame for the city’s increasing homicide rate, telling reporters on Wednesday he’s “not committing the murders” himself.

Bernard “Jack” Young, who took office in May, said during his weekly press conference that “there’s not any lack of leadership of my part.”

“That’s what people need to understand. I’m not committing the murders. The police commissioner is not committing it. The council is not committing it. So how can you fault leadership?” he questioned. “You know this has been five years of 300-plus murders, and I don’t see it as a lack of leadership.”

At least 296 people have been killed so far in the major northeastern city in Maryland this year, according to The Baltimore Sun, putting the city on track to have more than 300 homicides for the fifth year in a row. Baltimore has a population of more than 600,000 people.

Baltimore cops have somewhat relaxed the intensity of their enforcement efforts in the wake of Freddie Gray’s 2015 death while in police custody and the protests that followed. Preliminary data suggests cops have been reporting fewer and fewer criminal incidents in the years since Gray died, leading many observers to draw a correlation between overly cautious law enforcement stemming from the heightened scrutiny.


Baltimore hits 300 homicides for fifth year in a row

Several Southwest Baltimore neighbors began their Thursday morning with a visit to the South Monroe Grocery store and more bad news.

The lingering scent of bleach and a police presence outside the small shop signaled to patrons that another homicide had occurred. The officers soon placed a call to the fire department to wash the remaining flecks of blood from the pavement.

Hours earlier, a man and a woman were fatally shot — the 299th and 300th individuals killed in Baltimore in 2019.

Their deaths marked the city’s fifth consecutive year losing at least 300 citizens to homicide. The staggering total has become an unofficial milestone in Baltimore’s annual struggle to quell extreme violence.

Police confirmed the double shooting Thursday near the grocery store in the 1900 block of McHenry St. Prior to that, 21-year-old Donnell Brockington, of Aberdeen, died at an area hospital after he was found Wednesday night with gunshot wounds in the 2600 block of McElderry St.

“Every murder is a tragedy. We don’t want any. We strive to clear them all,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Thursday on WYPR’s Midday show with Tom Hall.

Harrison, who previously served as New Orleans’ chief, said it took years for that city to reverse its crime trends. He said he attributed the reversals there partially to apprehending and holding criminals accountable. By solving more crimes, he said they were able to solve homicides, shootings and prevent more.

He said a new deployment strategy in Baltimore placed officers in the area of a shooting Wednesday night, allowing them to catch a fleeing vehicle. “Our officers were right where they are supposed to be.”

However, Harrison said to address the “culture of violence” in Baltimore, he said there must be programs offering young men a path away from a life of crime.

“If you’re not doing that we are only responding to it,” he said.


Tyson settles with government over fraudulent inspection records…the company found video of a USDA inspector faking a meat plant inspection

Tyson Foods has reached a $1-million settlement with the federal government after the meat giant alleged that a Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector lied about her work and forced the company to throw out thousands of pig carcasses.

“This was an unfortunate situation and we appreciate the USDA for working with us to address our losses,” a Tyson spokesman told The New Food Economy.

Tyson is a titan of the food industry, pulling in over $40 billion in annual revenue. The Springdale, Arkansas, meatpacker slaughters more chickens and cattle than any other American company, employing 121,000 people at over 120 plants and offices. It’s responsible for 20 percent of all beef, pork and chicken produced in America, including McDonald’s chicken nuggets and Walmart’s ground beef, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Pork isn’t its main business.)

In May, the company sued the United States, claiming that a USDA veterinarian, Yolanda Thompson, had signed inspection certificates for 4,622 slaughtered hogs at its Storm Lake, Iowa, plant on March 26, 2018. The company claimed that video footage showed Thompson hadn’t entered the plant that day, and in fact, signed those forms in her car.

Federal meat inspectors are required to visually inspect animal carcasses, to make sure they’re safe to eat.

By the time plant officials found out, it was too late to remove the pigs from production. Unable to separate them, the company said it was forced to destroy around 8,000 hog carcasses. In its complaint, it sought over $2.48 million in damages, including $1.85 million for destroyed carcasses, and $315,000 in cancelled sales.

That’s a lot of pigs, though only a fraction of the 21 million that Tyson processes every year, according to company data. As the Trump administration pursues a plan to privatize meat inspection, federal meat inspectors say they’re already understaffed, and don’t have the ability to do their jobs.


White House to use webcams to create live feed of border wall construction

Jared Kushner and other senior Trump administration officials are planning to set up web cameras to live-stream construction of President Trump’s border wall, going against objections from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, according to four people familiar with the White House proposal.

“There will be a wall cam, and it’ll launch early next year,” said a senior White House official involved in the initiative, which aims to rally public support for hundreds of miles of new border barrier Trump wants in place by next year’s election.

The project, which already has cost $10 billion in taxpayer funds, is behind schedule and faces major hurdles, including the need to acquire miles of privately held land in Texas where barriers are slated to be built.

Kushner floated the idea during meetings in July, part of a messaging effort to push back against criticism that Trump has failed to deliver on the signature proposal of his 2016 campaign. The U.S. Army Corps and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have told Kushner that construction contractors do not want their proprietary techniques visible to competitors, according to four people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal discussions.

Officials at the Army Corps and CBP also were concerned the cameras would show U.S. work crews violating Mexican sovereignty because they sometimes must stray south of the border to maneuver their vehicles and heavy equipment in the desert. Because some of the remote border areas lack network access, the cameras will require their own web connectivity and attendants who could frequently reposition them to keep the lens pointed at the action.


Health Minister Wants Full-Genome Sequencing Of Every Newborn Child In UK To Become Routine

The cost of sequencing every DNA “letter” in a human genome has fallen faster than Moore’s Law, from around $100 million in 2001, to under $1,000 today (although some say the overall cost in a clinical context is higher). This brings with it the prospect of routinely carrying out full-genome sequencing for everyone. That’s precisely what Matt Hancock, the UK’s Health Secretary, has said he wants to see as a part of the country’s National Health Service (NHS), reported here by The Telegraph:

“My ambition is that eventually every child will be able to receive whole genome sequencing along with the heel prick test [a basic test for genetic conditions],” he told the conference.

“We will give every child the best possible start in life by ensuring they get the best possible medical care as soon as they enter the world. Predictive, preventative, personalised healthcare — that is the future of the NHS — and whole genome sequencing and genomics is going to play a huge part in that,” he said.

Creating a massive database of near-complete genomes will probably ring alarm bells for Techdirt readers. Just recently, US police have started obtaining warrants to search entire DNA databases, even of people who opted out of allowing law enforcement to access their genomic data. That’s despite the fact that “touch DNA” is mostly guesswork, and that crime lab testing is beset with problems. Moreover, a mistaken belief that DNA is infallible can lead to innocent people being charged with serious crimes like murder.

It’s true that DNA can be a very powerful tool for solving crimes by finding distant matches in publicly-available genetic data, and then constructing family trees to narrow down the possible suspects. But that fact also exposes why routinely obtaining someone’s DNA, as Hancock proposes for newborns in the UK, has an important impact on anyone related to the person whose whole genome is sequenced.

Even when DNA databases of a complete population are not set up for the purposes of mass surveillance, as Kuwait proposed (but then scaled back), and as China is implementing in Xinjiang as a way of controlling the local Uyghur population, there are other serious issues that need to be considered.


‘Unlimited’ Data Plans With Very Obvious Limits Are Only Getting More Confusing

Back in 2007, Verizon was forced to strike an agreement with the New York State Attorney General for marketing data plans as “unlimited” when the plans had very clear limits. Twelve years later and it’s not clear the industry has learned much of anything.

After their efforts to strictly monetize usage didn’t go well with consumers, wireless carriers around 2012 or so returned to offering unlimited data plans. But much like the unlimited data plans of old, these plans have all manner of bizarre restrictions. Verizon, for example, bans users from even watching videos in HD unless they sign up for more expensive plans. Carriers also throttle usage after you reach a certain amount of data for the remainder of your billing cycle. There are also limitations on how frequently you can use your phone as a tethered modem or hotspot.

AT&T’s latest updates to its “unlimited” wireless data plans are no exception, and require an industry-lingo decoder ring and a few hours of fine print reading to actually understand. Here, for example, is how CNET framed the changes:

“Those looking for a mobile hotspot will need to jump to AT&T’s Unlimted Extra Plan, which runs $40 per line, per month for a family of four. This plan adds 15GB of mobile hotspot per line and you won’t have your data slowed until you’ve already used 50GB in a month and are in “congested” areas like a stadium (the Starter plan will slow down data if you’re in a congested area and have passed 22GB).


Wisconsin County Briefly Considers (Then Drops) Resolution To Threaten Journalists With Prosecution For Not Reprinting Entirety Of Gov’t Report

It’s kind of stunning how frequently we see elected officials proposing things that are so blatantly unconstitutional that you wonder how they were proposed in the first place. Take, for example, a situation in southwest Wisconsin. Last week it was reported that the Lafayette County’s board would be considering a hilariously overbroad resolution that threatened to prosecute journalists if they did not report on the local “Review Board of the Water Quality Study.” The proposed resolution did not mince words, noting that it was put in place because of worries about “slander”:

WHEREAS, in the past, Southwest Wisconsin has been falsely slandered by the press due to a county board leak of confidential information of the collaborative three county water study the following protocols must be followed:

So, right from the start this is problematic. Claiming that the press “slandered” you already suggests a bad outlook. Second, any demand for “protocols” that “must be followed” for journalists is inherently a violation of the 1st Amendment that anyone — even a lowly county board member — should recognize. Among the protocols are the insane requirement that any reporting on the report must simply repost the entire press release crafted by the Review Board, and they are not allowed to even quote it.

An appropriate statement will be crafted by the Review Board. It will be crafted in a press release and shared with the press with this specific statement included at the top: “Please do not alter, edit, cut or adjust this press release in anyway. Please print the content provided in full.” Under no circumstances is the media allowed to glean information and selectively report it in order to interpret the results for their own means.

Yeah, so beyond the mixing up of “any way” and “anyway”, telling journalists that they’re not allowed to “glean information” or report on it how they want is kind of insane. It also undermines the “Please” at the beginning of the “specific statement included at the top” which makes it sound like a request. Oh, also undermining the “please” is the sentence after the part quoted above: