Media coverage United States governments’ policies and political pronouncements point to rising abuse of power, including attacks on democracy, civil liberties and use of mass surveillance.
Tell Media and The Defender, Big Brother NewsWatch and NewsGuard bring the latest political and health coverage via excerpts from other news sources.
The Washington Post reported: For a brief moment in a five-hour-long House hearing on Thursday, TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew let his frustration show. Asked if TikTok was prepared to split off from its Chinese parent company if ordered to do so by the US government, in order to safeguard Americans’ online data, Chew went on offence.
“I don’t think ownership is the issue here. With a lot of respect: American social companies don’t have a great record with privacy and data security. I mean, look at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” Chew said, referring to the 2018 scandal in which Facebook users’ data was found to have been secretly harvested years earlier by a British political consulting firm.
He’s not wrong. At a hearing in which TikTok was often portrayed as a singular, untenable threat to Americans’ online privacy, it would have been easy to forget that the country’s online privacy problems run far deeper than any single app. And the people most responsible for failing to safeguard Americans’ data, arguably, are American lawmakers.
The bipartisan uproar over TikTok’s Chinese ownership stems from the concern that China’s laws could allow its authoritarian government to demand or clandestinely gain access to sensitive user data, or tweak its algorithms to distort the information its young users see. The concerns are genuine.
And yet the United States has failed to bequeath Americans most of the rights it now accuses TikTok of threatening.
The Hill reported: A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a lower court decision to block the government from enforcing its Covid-19 vaccine requirement on federal employees – reversing a previous ruling from a smaller panel of its own judges. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a rare en banc rehearing that a preliminary nationwide injunction on the vaccine mandate should remain in place while the case proceeds.
The decision overturns that of a three-judge appeals panel, which ruled last April to uphold the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal employees.
The full appeals court found that the case, brought by a 6,000-member organisation known as Feds for Medical Freedom, falls outside the purview of the CSRA because they are challenging the vaccine mandate on the grounds that the president exceeded his constitutional authority.
The court also noted that both sides will eventually have to “grapple with the White House’s announcement that the Covid emergency will finally end on May 11, 2023.”
Axios reported: Utah became on Thursday the first state to enact legislation that restricts children and teens from using social media without their parents’ consent.
Driving the news: Governor Spencer Cox (Republican) signed two bills into law aimed at limiting when and where anyone younger than 18 years old can interact online and to stop companies from luring minors to certain websites.
Details: Under the law that’s due to take effect on March 1, 2024, social media companies will have to instate a curfew for minors in the state, barring them from using their accounts from 10:30 pm to 6:30 am. It also requires companies to give a parent or guardian access to their child’s accounts. Of note: Adults will also have to confirm their ages to use social media platforms or they’ll lose account access.
Between the lines: The proposed legislation comes as experts and policymakers nationwide are warning about the mental health consequences social media may have on young users, Axios’ Kim Bojórquez and Erin Alberty report.
Associated Press reported: Any Covid-19 vaccine requirement by public schools, state agencies or local governments would be blocked under legislation given final approval by the Georgia House on Thursday. The House voted 99-69 in favor of Senate Bill 1, which would make permanent what had been a one-year ban enacted in 2022. The measure now goes to Governor Brian Kemp for his signature or veto.
Representative Todd Jones, a Republican from Cumming who supports the measure, said the government shouldn’t be able to force anyone to get a Covid-19 vaccine or refuse services to people who are unvaccinated. He said it should be up to individuals to decide.
The current one-year ban began as part of a nationwide conservative backlash against mandates meant to prevent the spread of the virus, but it would expire on June 30 in Georgia if Kemp doesn’t sign the bill into law. The measure bars state agencies, local governments, schools and colleges from requiring proof of vaccination. Because governments and schools can’t require proof, they can’t enforce mandates.
Associated Press reported: Alabama lawmakers on Thursday advanced legislation requiring hospitals and nursing homes to allow in-person visits, even during a pandemic.
The Alabama Senate approved the bill on a 33-0 vote after members shared stories of people being separated from loved ones during the Covid-19 pandemic. The bill now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives. Lawmakers in several other states have also moved to limit restrictions on visitations such as those imposed during the pandemic.
The bill’s sponsor Sen Garlan Gudger, Republican-Cullman, said he introduced the bill after constituent Bonnie Sachs approached him at her husband’s funeral and described how she was unable to see her husband of 50 years before he died because of visitation restrictions. Lawmakers approved a bill two years ago, but Gudger said that did not go as far as they wanted.
The legislation additionally says a facility’s visitation policies cannot be more stringent than the safety rules applied to the facility’s staff and may not require proof of any vaccination or immunization.
Newsweek reported: Passing the bar may be easier for AI than recognising misinformation. GPT-4 may have scored in the 90th percentile on the bar exam, but the latest version of OpenAI’s artificial intelligence software scored zero per cent in an exercise assessing its ability to avoid spreading significant misinformation, NewsGuard found.
OpenAI, GPT-4’s developer, presented the new technology last week as a smarter, more creative and safer version of its AI technology that has captured global attention in recent months. “GPT-4 is 82 per cent less likely to respond to requests for disallowed content and 40 per cent more likely to produce factual responses than GPT-3.5 on our internal evaluations,” OpenAI said on its site.
However, a NewsGuard analysis found that the chatbot operating GPT-4, known as ChatGPT-4, is actually more susceptible to generating misinformation – and more convincing in its ability to do so — than its predecessor, ChatGPT-3.5.
NewsGuard’s findings suggest that OpenAI has rolled out a more powerful version of the artificial intelligence technology before fixing its most critical flaw: how easily it can be weaponised by malign actors to manufacture misinformation campaigns.
Insider reported: A US TikTok ban is just a matter of time, and that spells trouble for US stocks, according to Deepwater Asset Management’s Gene Munster. In an interview with CNBC, he pointed to the congressional hearing on Thursday, when TikTok CEO Shou Chew argued against a potential ban on the China-based short-form video app or a forced sale in the US.
Munster predicted the Biden administration could allow TikTok to stay this year, in order to quell escalating tensions between the US and China. But once some of the political fire dies down, a ban is probably inevitable, he said, pointing to policymakers’ heated questioning at the hearing, which involved intense criticism of the app.
Commentators say that Chew’s appearance before Congress this week likely failed to soothe policymakers regarding TikTok’s privacy policies, with Wedbush analyst Dan Ives calling the hearing a “disaster.”
TechRadar reported: Microsoft has pushed hard and fast to get the ‘new and improved’ AI-powered Bing out there to consumers and it seems like all that hard work and (light badgering of users) may have paid off. As of now, it seems Bing is gaining new users while Google is seeing a small drop.
According to Reuters, Microsoft is seeing an increase of about 16 per cent in page visits since Bing launched its ChatGPT-powered ‘new Bing’ experience. Microsoft confirmed earlier this month that it has now reached an estimated 100 million active users and that number is likely to continue in an upward momentum as more people get comfortable — or at least cautiously acquainted — with AI chatbots.
Microsoft launched the enhanced Bing in early February and has since then seen a 15.8 per cent boost in page visits according to the data, which could suggest a sliver of success in Microsofts painstaking journey trying to pull users away from Google and its absolute dominance in the search engine sphere.
Politico reported: France’s AI-powered array of surveillance cameras for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics cleared a final legislative hurdle on Thursday.
The French government wants to experiment with large-scale, real-time camera systems supported by an algorithm to spot suspicious behavior, including unsupervised luggage and triggering alarms to warn of crowd movements like stampedes, for the mega-sports event next year.
In a sparsely-attended chamber, French members of parliament approved the controversial bill after more than seven hours of heated debate. The text can still be challenged before the country’s top constitutional court.
Last week, a group of about 40 European lawmakers – mainly left-wing – asked their French counterparts to vote against the text. They warned in a letter that “France would set a surveillance precedent of the kind never before seen in Europe, using the pretext of the [2024 Paris Summer] Olympic games.”
- A Tell / The Defender report