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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Senators Call for End of ‘Forcing of Toddlers to Wear Masks’
A group of U.S. senators, including West Virginia’s Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R), have called for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to remove mask mandates for children and volunteers in Head Start programs across the country.
According to a release from Sen. Capito, a group of 17 senators sent a letter to the Biden Administration asking for an “overly rigid, inflexible” mask mandate from November 2021 to be removed.
In the letter, the group called the mandate “unnecessary,” citing that the World Health Organization does not recommend masks for children under five years old, but Head Start still requires them for children over two.
The “forcing of toddlers… to wear masks” sparked a vote for a resolution against the mandate in Congress earlier this year, which was vetoed by President Biden, according to the senators’ letter. The letter cited that Biden’s reason for vetoing the resolution was the lack of child vaccines, but as of June 2022, children over six months can now be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Newsom Signs Controversial Social Media Bill Into California Law
A.B. 587 will require social media companies to publicly post their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, harassment and extremism on their platforms and report data on their enforcement of the policies.
The newly signed legislation will also require platforms to file semiannual reports to the state’s attorney general’s office that will disclose their policies on hate speech, extremism and disinformation.
The state’s attorney general’s office is also required “to make all terms of service reports submitted pursuant to those provisions available to the public in a searchable repository on its official internet website.”
Navy Quietly Rolled Back Punishments for SEALs Seeking Religious Exemptions to the COVID Vaccine
The U.S. Navy quietly rolled back an order punishing SEALs who remain unvaccinated due to their religious beliefs, according to recent court documents.
The order, “Trident Order #12,” disqualified SEALs seeking religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine from training, traveling for deployment and conducting other standard business. It was first issued on Sept. 24, 2021, by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William Lescher, and all special warfare forces were initially expected to come into compliance with the vaccine mandate by mid-October 2021.
The order was put on hold due to a preliminary injunction issued by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in early 2022 as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought by First Liberty Institute and Hacker Stephens LLP on behalf of 35 active-duty SEALs and three reservists seeking a religious exemption to the mandate.
However, according to a new filing in the lawsuit, the Navy quietly rolled back Trident Order #12 on May 22, 2022, a few months after the injunction was issued. The lawsuit representing unvaccinated SEALs, first reported by Fox News Digital in November, has since been amended to extend to a class action lawsuit encompassing all Navy service members seeking religious accommodation.
‘Simply Absurd’: NYC Urged to Ease COVID Vaccine Mandates in Public Schools
The new school year is in full swing, and while some coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions were eased for students and staff members in New York City public schools, some vaccine mandates remain in place — a situation that Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore) calls “absurd.”
Borelli, who is part of the Common Sense Caucus in the City Council, explained that the group met with Mayor Eric Adams and city Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan last week to discuss easing coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine mandates for public and private employees, which includes teachers and school staff, and allow all vaccinated and unvaccinated students to participate in sports and after-school activities.
The caucus also asked for an end to a vaccine mandate for all visitors — including parents — to school buildings. Borelli added he doesn’t want to see students miss yet another year of a sport or activity, especially one that can be an entrance to college, a potential career or a chance to lift many youths and their families out of poverty.
The Common Sense Caucus said in a statement that there is more work to do, but based on the conversations with the mayor and health commissioner, the group is “optimistic that some positive changes to these policies may be forthcoming.”
‘Conscientious Objection’ Reason Enough to Refuse mRNA Vaccines as Preventive Treatment for COVID: Study
A new Canadian study published in a peer-reviewed international journal proposes that “conscientious objection” is an adequate reason to refuse mRNA vaccines as a preventive treatment against COVID-19.
The study was published on Aug. 23 in the International Journal of Vaccine Theory, Practice and Research. Its five co-authors include Dr. Patrick Provost and Dr. Nicolas Derome — two professors who were recently suspended by Quebec’s Laval University for questioning the need to vaccinate children against COVID-19.
The authors said there are several reasons for using conscientious objection — an objection based on moral or religious grounds — to refuse these mRNA vaccines, which they said “make human cells perform a function that they would not normally execute: the production and expression of a foreign viral protein on their surface.”
To begin with, they said that both proponents and opponents of the new mRNA technology agree it is “unnatural,” and in addition, the technology’s long-term effects are “as yet either completely unknown or just beginning to come to light.”
COVID Pandemic Leave Payments to Be Kept as Long as Mandatory Isolation Is Required
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and state and territory leaders agreed to keep the payments as long as people are required to isolate. He said the national cabinet would discuss an end date for mandatory isolation when it meets in a fortnight’s time.
Payment claims will be limited to a maximum of three payments over six months, except in extraordinary cases. The payment will remain at a maximum of $540 for people required to isolate for five days.
Court Rejects Injunction Against Seneca College’s COVID Vaccination Mandate
Ontario’s Superior Court has upheld Seneca College’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate after two unvaccinated students sought an injunction so they could attend classes and complete their programs. Although the students’ request for a temporary injunction against the vaccination requirement was denied, their legal challenge of the policy will still go ahead.
Seneca was believed to be the first post-secondary school in the country to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations last fall for students and staff on campus and said the requirement for full vaccination — two shots — continues this fall.
A statement posted on the center’s website said it “regrets to announce that the injunction application on behalf of two students challenging Seneca College’s mandatory vaccination policy for the fall term was unsuccessful.
“Two students who brought the legal action had hoped to return to school in the fall and complete their education. Seneca College will not permit them to attend classes for the 2022-2023 school year because they have refused to be injected with COVID vaccines.”
Twitter Shareholders Approve Elon Musk’s $44 Billion Takeover Offer
Twitter shareholders on Tuesday voted to approve Elon Musk‘s offer to buy the social media platform for around $44 billion, just weeks before the start of the company’s trial against the billionaire for trying to back out of the deal, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Why it matters: The vote came the same day Peiter Zatko, Twitter’s former head of security who released an 84-page whistleblower complaint against the platform last month, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the national security implications of his claims.
Driving the news: Zatko’s allegations included that the platform violated a 2011 consent decree with the U.S. government, that it can’t track and limit employees’ access to its networks, and that it lacks recovery plans if its data centers go down, Axios’ Sam Sabin reports.
He alleged before the Senate committee that the company was informed of agents of the Chinese government working at the social media firm and that some employees had concerns the Chinese government could collect data on the company’s users, Reuters reports.
TikTok Search Results Riddled With Misinformation: Report
TikTok may be the platform of choice for catchy videos, but anyone using it to learn about COVID-19, climate change or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is likely to encounter misleading information, according to a research report published Wednesday.
Researchers at NewsGuard searched for content about prominent news topics on TikTok and say they found that nearly 1 in 5 of the videos automatically suggested by the platform contained misinformation.
The amount of misinformation — and the ease with which it can be found — is especially troubling given TikTok’s popularity with young people, according to Steven Brill, founder of NewsGuard, a firm that monitors misinformation.
TikTok is the second most popular domain in the world, according to online performance and security company Cloudflare, exceeded only by Google.
Google Must Face Most of Texas-Led Antitrust Case, Court Says
U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel ruled against Google’s motion to dismiss the case filed by 16 states and Puerto Rico, though he did toss one count alleging Google and Facebook colluded on an advertising agreement.
“Here, the court is absolutely right to reject Google’s attempt to throw out our case. We look forward to a jury hearing how this Big Tech giant abused its monopoly power by harming consumers to reap billions in monopoly profits. This is a major step in the right direction to make our free market truly free,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said in a statement.
It is just one antitrust case the tech giant is facing.
Period Tracking App Flo Rolls out ‘Anonymous Mode’ on iOS, Android Launch Coming Next Month
Period tracking app Flo has released a new “Anonymous Mode” setting that gives users the option to access the app without their name, email address and technical identifiers being associated with their health data. Flo promised to release the mode shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
The company launched the new Anonymous Mode setting on Wednesday for all iOS users. Android users will get access to the new setting next month, Flo says.
Following the Supreme Court’s reversal, activists and privacy advocates warned users of period tracking apps to be wary of the possibility that their health data could be used against them if they were to seek abortion services. Flo’s new Anonymous Mode setting is a direct response to these fears.
South Korea Hits Google, Meta With Record-Setting Fines Over Privacy Violations
Google and Meta have yet another privacy regulator breathing down their necks and scrutinizing their advertisement business. On Wednesday South Korean regulators fined the two companies more than $70 million collectively for collecting users’ personal information without their consent and then using that information to serve them, you guessed it, targeted ads.
The Personal Information Protection Commission, Korea’s privacy regulator, specifically issued a 69.2 billion KRW (or around $50 million) fine for Google and a lower 30.8 billion KRW (or around $22 million) penalty for Meta.
The commission reportedly takes particular issue with the shadowy ways the two companies collect information on users when they visit non-Google or Meta sites. According to the commission, those collection efforts weren’t clearly articulated and allegedly occurred without first seeking users’ consent.
Now, in addition to coughing up close to $100 million in penalties, the commission wants Google and Meta to provide users with a “clear and easy” process of consenting, according to the Associated Press.