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.
BlackRock Invests in Censorship
Why is BlackRock, the largest investment firm in the world, promoting censorship? That is a question clients might want to ask after BlackRock cast its shareholder votes against a proposal designed to ensure transparency in how Big Tech platforms respond to government demands for censorship.
The proposal was sponsored by the National Legal and Policy Center, which I chair. As a shareholder in Alphabet, the parent of Google, we asked the company to provide a report, updated semi-annually and published on its website, that would disclose requests from “the Executive Office of the President, Centers for Disease Control or any other agency or entity of the United States Government” to remove or take down material from its platforms.
The resolution was a response to widespread concerns that the Biden administration is suborning censorship by major social media platforms. This would be a clear violation of a 1963 Supreme Court ruling, in Bantam Books, Inc. vs. Sullivan, prohibiting private entities from engaging in suppression of speech at the behest of government — which, the Court held, has the same effect as direct government censorship.
The proposal lost badly after the unsurprising opposition of Alphabet‘s management, but also because big investment firms — most prominently BlackRock — voted against it. Events since the June 1 shareholders’ meeting, however, make BlackRock’s “no” vote look much worse.
A Wave of Anti-Vaccine Legislation Is Sweeping the United States
As the weather starts to turn cold and as officials push for more people to get their new booster shot before an expected winter coronavirus surge, public health leaders are battling skepticism and apathy toward the vaccines.
Across the country, Republican lawmakers have drafted a pile of anti-vaccine mandate bills this year, chipping away at a foundational health practice for the last half-century. More than 80 anti-vaccine bills have been introduced in state legislatures, according to academics tracking the phenomenon, dwarfing the number of countervailing pro-vaccine bills.
Public health experts are preparing for an all-out war on school mandates and other vaccine measures in states like Texas.
Pfizer, BioNTech Enlist Marvel’s Avengers in Latest COVID Vaccine Booster Push
The new comic, titled “Everyday Heroes,” represents Pfizer flexing its marketing muscle. COVID vaccines are slated to switch to the private commercial market after the U.S. government failed to secure additional funding from Congress. As Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., has said, Pfizer can be “even more competitive” and its commercial skills are “even better suited” in an open market than in a a government-contracting model.
The project also comes amid a reportedly slow start to the Omicron booster rollout in both the U.S. and Europe.
Fordham Vaccine Mandate, New York’s Toughest, Sparks Parents’ Revolt
A new COVID-19 vaccine booster mandate by Fordham University has sparked outrage among some parents who are currently planning to express their opposition to the campus protocol, which was announced amid loosening pandemic restrictions in New York City, where some degree of life normalcy has been restored.
Over 400 people from the Fordham community, including students, parents and alumni, signed a letter, obtained by Newsweek, that they plan to soon send to the university in an effort to express their opposition to the new mandate.
“In the beginning, everybody was hopeful that they [COVID vaccines] would work and unfortunately they haven’t. And now with newer studies, and with time, we’ve seen that there are risks associated with them and especially for young adults, and that’s really what we’re most concerned about, is our kids,” David Betten, one of the parents who signed the letter, told Newsweek on the phone on Thursday, adding that the bivalent booster should be a recommendation and not mandated.
Parents argued in the letter that Fordham’s new COVID-19 second-booster mandate is one of the toughest pandemic policies in a city where restrictions such as masking up while using the transit system have already been loosened.
Dr. McCullough, Who Raised Questions Over Safety of COVID Vaccines, Suspended From Twitter
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) took to the social media platform on Oct. 7 to condemn the suspension of McCullough’s account. “To say private companies have this right is to ignore their coordination with government censors, and the undisclosed influence they have on elections,” Massie wrote alongside a screenshot that shows McCullough’s account has been suspended.
A number of other medical experts and individuals also condemned Twitter on Thursday for suspending McCullough’s account.
McCullough, the chief medical adviser for the Truth for Health Foundation, had over 512,000 followers on Twitter and has been vocal in questioning just how safe and effective COVID-19 shots, which have been pushed by the Biden administration, are.
Doctors Fear California Law Aimed at COVID Misinformation Could Do More Harm Than Good
California doctors will soon be subject to disciplinary action if they give their patients information about COVID-19 that they know to be false or misleading.
On its face, the new state law sounds like a clear blow to the forces that have fueled skepticism about life-saving vaccines, encouraged anxious people to trust discredited and dangerous drugs like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, and reduced face masks to symbols of political partisanship. The measure was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week and goes into effect on Jan. 1.
But critics of the law, including many mainstream doctors who have advocated passionately for masks and vaccines, say it could end up curbing well-intentioned conversations between patients and physicians about a disease that’s still changing from one month to the next.
“There’s clear misinformation that’s happening that’s as black and white as you can get. But there’s a lot of gray out there too,” said Dr. Eric Widera, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco who specializes in geriatrics.
Appeals Court Backs Florida’s ‘Vaccine Passport’ Ban for Cruise Lines
In a victory for Gov. Ron DeSantis, a sharply divided federal appeals court Thursday rejected arguments by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings that Florida’s ban on so-called “vaccine passports” is unconstitutional.
A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, overturned a preliminary injunction that prevented the state from enforcing the ban on the cruise-ship company.
Thursday’s decision came three days after Norwegian announced that it would no longer require passengers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 before boarding ships. It also came two days after the Miami-based company said in court filings that the case was moot.
Judge Agrees to Postpone the Coming Trial Between Twitter and Elon Musk so They Can Work out a Deal
In a two-page ruling issued Thursday evening, Delaware Chancery Court Judge Kathaleen McCormick said she would give the two parties until Oct. 28 to come to an agreement over the disputed transaction. The trial had originally been set to start Oct. 17.
Should the two sides fail to finalize a deal, the trial would start in November, she said.
The motion represents a victory for Musk, who in recent days had signaled he was seeking to avoid the trial by re-offering $54.20 a share for the company, or about $44 billion. Twitter opposed the offer as it sought to force Musk to close the deal on the exact terms he agreed to in April.
Biden Admin Issues Over 300,000 Smartphones With Tracking Devices to Illegal Immigrants
More than 300,000 smartphones used to monitor illegal immigrants were given to noncitizens by the Biden administration last month, according to data collected by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
Issuing such cellular devices to illegal immigrants is part of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program called the Alternatives to Detention, which essentially gives the individuals access to U.S. soil before their court dates.
Now We Know for Sure That Big Tech Peddles Despair, We Must Protect Ourselves
Now that the inquest into the awful death of Molly Russell in 2017 has delivered its findings, we have a new reality to adjust to. The teenager died from an act of self-harm, “while suffering depression and the negative effects of online content.”
Her father described how she had entered “the bleakest of worlds”: online content on self-harm and suicide was delivered in waves by Instagram and Pinterest, just leaving it to the algorithm. “Looks like you’ve previously shown an interest in despair: try this infinitely replenishing stream of fresh despair.”
Social media platforms deliberately target users with content, seeking attention and therefore advertising revenue: we knew that. This content can be extremely damaging: we knew that, too. But surely now that we’ve struggled, falteringly, towards the conclusion that it can be deadly, there can be no more complacency.
These are corporations like any other, and it’s time to build on the consensus that they cause harm by regulating, as we would if they were producing toxic waste and pumping it into paddling pools.
Biden Signs Executive Order on EU-U.S. Data Privacy Agreement
U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order Friday that would limit the ability of American national security agencies to access people’s personal information as part of a transatlantic data sharing agreement with the European Union.
The decree follows lengthy negotiations between the United States and the EU after the bloc’s highest court ruled in 2020 that Washington did not sufficiently protect Europe’s data when it was transferred across the Atlantic.
The judges’ concerns focused on how U.S. surveillance programs did not have proper measures for European citizens to address how the government collected their data.
Malware Apps May Have Stolen the Passwords of 1 Million Facebook Users, Meta Says
As many as 1 million Facebook users were targeted with Android and iPhone malware apps that tried to steal their passwords, according to a report released by Meta on Thursday.
The malware, detected across the last year, masqueraded as various kinds of app, including fake photo editors, virtual private networks that claimed to boost browsing speeds and get access to blocked websites, mobile games and health and lifestyle trackers. Some promised to turn the user’s face into a cartoon, while others provided horoscopes. All of the apps made it through Apple and Google security and onto the tech giants’ official app stores.