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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Just a Few School Districts Are Imposing Coronavirus Vaccine Mandates
DC Public Schools is mandating middle school and high school students be vaccinated against the coronavirus to return to the classroom next week. The District’s back-to-school plans set it at odds with most of the rest of the country, where youth vaccine mandates have so far failed to gain traction.
Schools have overwhelmingly declined to impose such requirements on kids, whose coronavirus vaccine uptake nationwide remains low; about 30% of children aged 5-11 and 60% of adolescents aged 12-17 are fully vaccinated.
The new law applies to all DC students for whom there is a federally, fully approved coronavirus vaccine. Students over the age of 12 will have 20 days from the first day of school, Aug. 29, to be in compliance with the policy before they are barred from attendance. However, students can seek religious or medical exemptions that are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
After the 20 school day grace period, unvaccinated students will be removed from class and their attendance will be recorded as unexcused absences. Should intervention attempts by school officials fail to bring the student into compliance, prolonged absences could trigger truancy, educational neglect and referrals to Child and Family Services and the Office of the Attorney General as a final resort.
DC Vaccine Mandate for Government Workers Is Unlawful, Judge Says
A DC Superior Court judge on Thursday said the vaccination mandate Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) imposed on city government workers earlier this year was unlawful in response to opposition from the DC police union.
The order from Judge Maurice A. Ross comes in response to a lawsuit filed in February by the DC Police Union and other police groups that opposed the mandate, which was first imposed by Bowser last year.
The August 2021 mayor’s order instructed DC government employees to submit proof that they had received the coronavirus vaccination, although workers could also apply for religious or medical exemptions or opt for weekly testing instead.
Ross’s order says Bowser is “permanently enjoined from implementing, imposing and/or enforcing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate … against the plaintiffs,” and that all disciplinary actions related to the mandate “shall immediately cease and be dismissed with full reimbursement to be provided to all [Fraternal Order of Police] members for any loss of benefits, pay, or rights and all related disciplinary proceedings to be expunged from their records.”
NYPD Detective Asks Supreme Court to Block Vaccine Mandate
A New York City police detective has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the city from firing him and other workers for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Lawyers for Detective Anthony Marciano, a 10-year police veteran, asked the court on Thursday for an emergency injunction that would block the city from enforcing a rule requiring all municipal employees to get vaccinated.
More than 1,000 New York City employees have been fired for refusing the vaccines, and others are waiting to find out whether their requests for exemptions will be approved.
Legal challenges to the rules have largely failed, but Marciano’s case is still pending in a federal appeals court. In a petition to the Supreme Court, Marciano’s lawyer asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor to block the city from enforcing its rule until that appeal is resolved.
Joe Rogan Points out How Anyone Can Abuse Mark Zuckerberg’s Glasses to Film Anyone Without Consent in a Matter of Seconds
On a new three-hour episode of The Joe Rogan Experience published on Thursday, guest Mark Zuckerberg took on a lot of topics, ranging from the metaverse to Meta’s ethical responsibilities to remote work.
Early on, the two discussed the current state of augmented and virtual reality and the technological innovations that Meta is working on in that sphere. Zuckerberg used it as an opportunity to discuss the Ray-Ban Stories, a Meta collaboration with the maker of the popular Wayfarer glasses model. The product launched last year and currently retails for $299.
Rogan pointed out the ways that a small, obscured camera might be abused. “Does that bring about privacy concerns if people can just start filming things?” he asked, to which Zuckerberg drew attention to a built-in light that signals when the camera is on — an interaction Twitter users have zeroed in on.
“Could you put a piece of tape over the light?” asked Rogan. “I guess in theory” was Zuckerberg’s response.
It’s a familiar type of question to be asked of Meta products and services, which critics frequently argue are open to misuse and manipulation, even harkening back to the birth of “The Facebook” when Zuckerberg was at Harvard.
Religious Shield Against Vaccine Mandate Gets 5th Circuit Review
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear oral argument Monday in a bid by former workers at Caris Life Sciences Inc. and Caris MPI Inc. to block the company’s vaccination requirement. A district court in Texas denied the workers’ request for a preliminary injunction in 2021.
The workers rely on the Fifth Circuit’s February decision that allowed two United Airlines Inc. employees to seek a court order under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to halt the airline’s COVID-19 shot policy, which put unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave.
The Fifth Circuit’s consideration of the Caris case gives it the chance to codify its groundbreaking decision in Sambrano v. United Airlines — which was unpublished, meaning it’s not binding precedent and applies only to the dispute at hand — by adopting its reasoning in a published opinion. The facts of the Caris case also open the door for the court to build on Sambrano to broaden when a worker can get a preliminary injunction to halt alleged discrimination.
Frontline Workers Form New Political Coalition, Call on Biden to End the COVID Public Health Emergency
Big cities and hospitals that mandated vaccines for frontline workers during the pandemic have unwittingly become the impetus for a new opposition force. A group of leaders from police and fire departments, EMS, and other related healthcare professions, created a new coalition to empower frontline workers to fight back against public policies that hurt their livelihoods.
The National Coalition of Frontline Workers (NCFW) launched in Washington, DC, on Thursday with representatives from the first responders’ professions. Its first official agenda was to call on President Joe Biden to end the COVID-19 public health emergency that has been in effect and been repeatedly extended since January 2020.
Vaccine mandates by large city governments during the pandemic have resulted in frontline workers getting fired across the country, even as the shots have proven ineffective at stopping the spread of the Omicron variant. There are an estimated 24 million frontline workers in the United States, according to the group.
The launch event of the coalition was held at the Hay Adams Hotel across from the White House. Collins said the group wanted to hold the event at the National Press Club but were told they were not allowed into the building without being vaccinated.
U.S. Suspends Chinese Airline Flights in COVID Dispute
The U.S. government is suspending 26 flights by Chinese airlines from the United States to China in a dispute over anti-virus controls after Beijing suspended flights by American carriers.
The Department of Transportation on Thursday complained Beijing violated an air travel agreement and treated airlines unfairly under a system that requires them to suspend flights if passengers test positive for COVID-19.
U.S. regulators suspended seven flights by Air China Ltd. from New York City and a total of 19 flights from Los Angeles by Air China, China Eastern Airlines Ltd., China Southern Airlines Ltd. and Xiamen Airlines Ltd., according to the Department of Transportation.
It said that was equal to the number of flights United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines were required to cancel under Beijing’s “circuit-breaker” system.
Microsoft and ByteDance Are Collaborating on a Big AI Project, Even as U.S.-China Rivalry Heats up
The high-stakes battle between the U.S. and China for supremacy in artificial intelligence has domestic lawmakers growing increasingly concerned over what losing out could mean for national security, the economy and American prosperity.
But as the world’s two largest economies pour resources into the race for dominance in the field, there’s also collaboration afoot. Indeed, some AI experts even say that cross-border cooperation is key to getting the most out of advancements in computing.
The Microsoft-ByteDance collaboration is notable because of the brewing rivalry between the U.S. and China with respect to AI and intellectual property, and concerns over how technological advancements could be used for surveillance and privacy intrusion.
Microsoft has been investing heavily in AI along with competitors like Amazon, Google parent Alphabet, Facebook parent Meta and Apple. Like Google once did, Microsoft maintains an AI research lab in China, helping it tap into the country’s academic talent.
Judge Orders Twitter to Turn Over to Elon Musk Data From 2021 Users Audit
Elon Musk may get access to Twitter data used in a 2021 audit of active users but other information the billionaire seeks in a bid to end his $44 billion deal to buy the company was rejected as “absurdly broad,” a judge said on Thursday.
Twitter must turn over data from the 9,000 accounts sampled in the fourth quarter as part of its process to estimate the number of spam accounts.
Twitter had said that data did not exist and it would be burdensome to collect it. Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick gave the company two weeks to produce the data.
YouTube Quietly Drops Some COVID Censorship Policies but Banned Channels Haven’t Returned
Collectively, these changes to YouTube’s “COVID-19 medical misinformation” mean that users are now allowed to question or dispute whether the vaccines reduce the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, question or dispute the effectiveness of masks and social distancing, say that the symptoms and contagiousness of COVID-19 are equal to or less severe than the common cold or seasonal flu and declare that the pandemic is over.
All prohibitions on statements about masks, social distancing, and self-isolation have been removed from YouTube’s “COVID-19 medical misinformation” policy. Additionally, one ban on statements about vaccines has been removed from the policy and several of the rules related to vaccines have been changed.
Before making these changes, YouTube removed more than a million videos for breaking its COVID-19 misinformation rules. Many high-profile figures, including Senator Rand Paul and Congressman Thomas Massie, were censored after questioning the effectiveness of masks or vaccines.
Instagram Now Defaults New Users Under 16 to Most Restrictive Content Setting, Adds Prompts for Existing Teens
In December, just ahead of Instagram head Adam Mosseri’s testimony before the U.S. Senate over the impacts of its app on teen users, the company announced plans to roll out a series of safety features and parental controls.
Instagram is updating a critical set of these features, which will now default users under the age of 16 to the app’s most restrictive content setting. It will also prompt existing teens to do the same and will introduce a new “Settings check-up” feature that guides teens to update their safety and privacy settings.
The changes are rolling out to global users across platforms amid increased regulatory pressure over social media apps and their accompanying minor safety issues.