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.
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1,300 NYC School Staffers Must Now Get COVID Vaccine — or Will Be Let Go
Time is running out for some 1,300 City Department of Education (DOE) employees on unpaid leave for a year since the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Under an agreement they signed a year ago, the staffers must show proof of at least one jab by Sept. 5, before the new school year starts.
If they do so, “they will return to their original school,” officials said. If not, they will be “deemed to have voluntarily resigned.”
“I’m very stressed. I’m praying to the last minute that something will change,” said an unvaccinated teacher who worked more than 20 years at a Queens elementary school.
The unpaid employees — including hundreds of teachers — have been getting health coverage since skipping the city’s deadline to get vaccinated last Oct. 4. Another roughly 1,100 unvaccinated DOE employees who rejected the unpaid-leave deal have already been fired, the DOE said.
DC Schools Extend Deadlines for COVID, Routine Vaccination Mandate
The city’s top education official notified school leaders Friday about the change, designed to reduce the number of children who could be barred from school, as well as align the District’s charter systems and public school district under a single enforcement timeline. The change comes a few days before the start of school and amid some concern that the mandate could keep students out of class, particularly Black students who lag behind their white classmates in routine and coronavirus vaccination rates.
Officials previously said schools should not allow students to come to class for more than 20 days without their routine vaccinations, against illnesses including measles and polio, or their coronavirus shots. But because schools across the district have different start dates — DC public schools reopen Monday and many charter school students have already returned — officials designed a timeline that would put everyone on the same page.
NFL’s Aaron Rodgers Says Joe Rogan Helped Him Develop COVID ‘Game Plan’
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said podcaster Joe Rogan helped him develop a game ahead of his COVID-19 diagnosis last year, which ultimately revealed that he had misled the public about his vaccination status.
Rodgers and Rogan have been prominent COVID-19 vaccine skeptics. The four-time NFL MVP claimed ahead of last season that he had been “immunized” against COVID-19, which was interpreted as confirmation that he was vaccinated until he contracted COVID-19 and was forced to miss a game due to being unvaccinated.
During an appearance on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, Rodgers thanked Rogan for his advice on treating COVID-19, also noting that he appreciated hearing previous guests on the show discuss “their own ideas about COVID.”
“And you know, you helped me with…a game plan to be ready in case I did get COVID. And I followed it to a tee and when I got COVID, you know within 36 hours I was, you know, symptom-free and feeling amazing,” Rodgers said.
COVID: California’s Marin County Lifts First Responder Mandate
Marin County Public Health has rescinded an order that law enforcement officers, firefighters, probation officers and emergency medical personnel be fully vaccinated and boosted to work in Marin County’s higher-risk settings.
“With the BA.5 variant circulating, we are seeing that the original, primary vaccination series and one booster don’t offer the same protection that they did with the BA.1 and BA.2 variant,” Santora said.
Justin Swift, president of the Marin County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, said, “It’s about time. It never should have happened. We lost a lot of good staff over the vaccine mandate.”
Flicking the Kill Switch: Governments Embrace Internet Shutdowns as a Form of Control
On Feb. 1, 2021, reporter Ko Zin Lin Htet received a panicked phone call from a source in Yangon, Myanmar’s most populous city. The caller said the military had seized power and was arresting opposition politicians, then hung up. Ko Zin Lin Htet remembered what he did next: “I checked my phone and my internet connection. There was nothing there.”
From Ukraine to Myanmar, government-run internet outages are picking up pace around the world. In 2021, there were 182 shutdowns in 34 countries, according to Access Now, a non-government organization that tracks connectivity around the world. Countries across Africa and Asia have turned to shutdowns in a bid to control behavior, while India, largely in the conflict-ridden region of Jammu and Kashmir, plunged into digital darkness more times than any other last year.
The increasing use of the kill switch underlines a deepening global trend towards digital authoritarianism, as governments use access to the internet as a weapon against their own people. Internet shutdowns have also become a modern canary in the coal mine.
Google Employees Frustrated After Office COVID Outbreaks, Some Call to Modify Vaccine Policy
The employees, who spoke with CNBC on the condition of anonymity, said since they have been asked to return to offices, infections notifications pop up in their email inboxes regularly. Employees are reacting with frustration and memes.
Last December, Google told employees that they must comply with vaccine policies or they’d face losing pay and then losing their job. Then in February, ahead of asking employees to come back, it relaxed rules around vaccines being a requirement for employment, as well as other rules around testing, social distancing and masks. But it continued to require COVID-19 vaccination to enter physical offices.
Now, some Google employees are asking the company to drop the vaccine mandate, arguing COVID-19 outbreaks keep happening anyway in the offices where employees are fully vaccinated. While it still provides a level of protection, the vaccines aren’t as strong against the highly transmissible BA.5 variant, the fastest-spreading variant of COVID-19 to date, the group argues in a manifesto called “No Vaccine Mandate,” which was posted this month and viewed by CNBC.
Infectious Disease Experts Aren’t All on the Same Page About COVID Booster Mandates
As Western University imposes a booster mandate for all incoming staff and students — an effort, it says, to lessen the risk of COVID-19 transmission on campus this fall — not all infectious disease experts are on the same page about the benefits of such mandates.
Dr. Martha Fulford, an infectious disease expert with McMaster University, says she sees the overall medical value of vaccines but doesn’t agree that booster shots should be mandated for public health. Instead, she told CTV National News, that booster shots should be considered at the individual level.
“It has become clear that COVID vaccines are not stopping onward transmission,” she said, referring to the spread of variants such as Omicron and sub-variants.
“If you’re going to mandate something, regardless of whether you agree with that person’s individual decision, there has to be a very compelling public health or medical rationale for that. It’s just not there anymore for the COVID vaccines and certainly not for boosters.”
Anti-COVID Vaccine Mandate Protest at Western University Sees Hundreds
Demonstrators marched around the southwestern Ontario campus and listened to speakers denounce the school’s decision to mandate booster doses of the vaccine for staff, students and some visitors.
Organizer Kendra Hancock says she hopes the demonstration will lead to public negotiations and more student consultation over the university’s rules, which also include mandatory masking in classrooms.
Western is the only university in Canada to mandate booster shots for all staff and students on campus.
Facebook to Settle Cambridge Analytica Privacy Suit
Facebook parent company Meta Platforms has reached a tentative settlement in a lawsuit seeking damages for allowing third parties, including British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, access to user data.
According to a document filed in a San Francisco court on Friday, Meta agreed to a “draft agreement in principle” and requested 60 days’ stay of the action for its finalization. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
In 2018, it came to light that Cambridge Analytica had paid a Facebook app developer for access to the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users. The data was used to target voters during Donald Trump’s victorious 2016 campaign for the U.S. presidency.
Amazon’s Empire of Surveillance: Through Recent Billion-Dollar Acquisitions of Healthcare Services and Smart Home Devices, the Tech Giant Is Leveraging Its Monopoly Power to Track ‘Every Aspect’ of Our Lives
Amazon‘s recent multi-billion dollar purchases of One Medical and iRobot have spurred concerns from legislators, antitrust advocates and privacy experts, but the company’s sprawling business model — and reputation of surveilling consumers and competition alike — makes the company almost unstoppable. It’s “like the mythical Hydra, where you cut off one head and two more grow in its place,” one data privacy expert told Insider.
Every step of the way, from its beginnings as an alternative to brick and mortar bookstores to snatching up over half of the online retail market, Amazon has relied on surveillance to dominate the competition, according to Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future.
“People tend to think of Amazon as an online marketplace, but really, Amazon is a surveillance company,” Greer told Insider. “[E]very aspect of their profit is derived from their ability to amass and leverage data.”
Apple Faces Growing Likelihood of DOJ Antitrust Suit
Justice Department lawyers are in the early stages of drafting a potential antitrust complaint against Apple, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter — a sign that a long-running investigation may be nearing a decision point and a suit could be coming soon.
Various groups of prosecutors inside the DOJ are assembling the pieces for a potential lawsuit, the individual said, adding that the department’s antitrust division hopes to file suit by the end of the year.
The suit would be the latest major legal problem besetting the country’s biggest tech companies two years after federal regulators and multiple states filed antitrust cases against Google and Facebook. And it would be the DOJ’s first antitrust suit against one of the tech titans during President Joe Biden’s administration.
The Justice Department has been investigating Apple since 2019 over allegations that it abused its market power to stifle smaller tech companies, including app developers and competing hardware makers. As the investigation has progressed, a suit has become increasingly likely, but the move to drafting sections of the suit is a significant step forward in the process.