Governments are using the pandemic to crack down on digital rights, report finds

The Freedom on the Net 2020 report, an assessment of 65 countries released Wednesday, found that the pandemic has accelerated a decline in free speech and privacy on the internet for the tenth consecutive year, and accused some governments of using the virus as a pretext to crack down on critical speech.

“The pandemic is accelerating society’s reliance on digital technologies at a time when the internet is becoming less and less free,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, which is funded by the US government. “Without adequate safeguards for privacy and the rule of law, these technologies can be easily repurposed for political repression.”

Amid the pandemic, internet connectivity has become a lifeline to essential information and services — from education platforms, to health care portals, employment opportunities and social interactions. But state and nonstate actors are also exploiting the crisis to erode freedoms online.
Nowhere has that approach been more apparent than in China, according to Freedom House, which rated the country worst for internet freedom for a sixth year in a row.
Since the coronavirus outbreak emerged in Wuhan last December, China has deployed every tool in its internet control arsenal — from digital surveillance, to automated censorship, and systematic arrests — to stem the spread, not only of Covid-19, but of unofficial information and criticism of the government, researchers found.

These practices are not unique to China, the report details.

Censoring the coronavirus outbreak

Intent on downplaying unfavorable Covid-19 coverage, authorities censored independent reporting in at least 28 countries and arrested online critics in 45 countries, per the report.

Following China’s lead, governments from Bangladesh to Belarus blocked reporting and websites that contradicted official sources, revoking credentials and detaining journalists who challenged their statistics. In Venezuela, for example, the government barred a website with

Argentina is using facial recognition system that tracks child suspects, Human Rights Watch says

Publishing such information violates the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a U.N. agreement to which Argentina is a signatory, that says a child’s privacy should be respected at all stages of legal proceedings, said Hye Jung Han, a researcher and advocate in the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, who was the lead researcher on the report.

Argentina’s embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

On a visit to Argentina in May 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy warned the Argentine government that CONARC’s database contained 61 children. By that October Argentina’s justice ministry said there was no children’s data in CONARC. But the report contends the practice continued after the U.N. visit, with 25 additional children added to the database.

An HRW review of CONARC also saw that the public information about the children was peppered with inaccuracies.

“Some children appear multiple times,” José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, wrote Friday in a public letter of concern to Argentine President Alberto Fernández. “There are blatant typographical errors, conflicting details, and multiple national ID numbers assigned to single individuals, raising the risk of mistaken matches. In one example, a 3-year-old is listed as being wanted for aggravated robbery.”

He added that the practice of using this information for facial recognition tracking also poses huge accuracy risks, given the higher rate of misidentification of children with such technology.

“Facial recognition technology has considerably higher error rates for children, in part because most algorithms have been trained, tested and tuned only on adult faces,” Vivanco wrote. “In addition, since children experience rapid and drastic changes in their facial features as they age, facial recognition algorithms also often fail to identify a child who is a

Prop 24, the California Privacy Rights Act Receives Support From 77% Of Likely California Voters

Prop 24, the California Privacy Rights Act Receives Support From 77% Of Likely California Voters

PR Newswire

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct. 6, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Oct. 6, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Today the YES on Prop 24 campaign released polling results from Goodwin Simon Strategic Research showing that voters continue to overwhelmingly support Prop 24, the California Privacy Rights Act on the November ballot, with 77% of likely voters saying they will vote YES on the ballot measure.

Yes on Privacy, Yes on Prop 24 (PRNewsfoto/Californians for Consumer Priva)
Yes on Privacy, Yes on Prop 24 (PRNewsfoto/Californians for Consumer Priva)

Voters are demanding privacy rights and that’s exactly what we’re giving them in Prop 24- that’s why it has 77% support.

Even more telling is that despite negative campaigning by the opposition, only 11% of voters oppose the measure – the same number as when the last poll was taken in July.

“It’s crystal clear that voters are demanding privacy rights, and that’s exactly what we’re giving them with Prop 24, the California Privacy Rights Act,” said General Consultant and Campaign Manager Robin Swanson. “Voters also don’t believe the misinformation being put out by opponents. When voters read what the measure actually does to expand privacy rights, protect our sensitive personal information, stop hackers and triple fines for violating our kids’ data – they invariably vote YES on 24.”

The poll, which was conducted between September 29October 5 included 750 likely California voters. The 77% support number is within the margin of error of a previous poll taken in July, which showed the measure at 81% support.

CURRENT POLL: (September 29October 5)

NET: TOTAL YES

77%

NET: TOTAL NO

11%

UNSURE

12%

PREVIOUS POLL: (July 26-31)

NET: TOTAL YES

81%

NET: TOTAL NO

11%

UNSURE

8%

About Prop 24 / The California Privacy

Voting rights groups urge Florida to extend voter registration deadline after website issues

A number of voting rights groups are calling for Florida’s voter registration cutoff to be extended after the state’s registration portal experienced outages in the hours before the deadline.



graphical user interface: Some users encountered error messages when trying to access Florida's voter registration website, RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov, in the hours before the 2020 general election deadline.


© [Allison Ross | Times]/Tampa Bay Times/TNS
Some users encountered error messages when trying to access Florida’s voter registration website, RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov, in the hours before the 2020 general election deadline.

Some Floridians attempting to access RegistertovoteFlorida.gov found slow responses or error messages on Monday evening, with some reports on social media of people attempting for hours to register to vote.

Florida’s deadline to register in order to be eligible to vote in the 2020 general election was midnight Monday. Paper applications that were mailed in had to be postmarked by Monday.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU of Florida and the Campaign Legal Center sent a letter on Monday night to Brad McVay, the Florida Department of State’s general counsel, pushing for the deadline to be extended until midnight Tuesday.

“We are contemplating further action,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, when asked for an update Tuesday morning. “We are prepared to use every tool in our arsenal to stand up for voters impacted.”

A spokesman for the Department of State, which manages the website, has not yet responded to two voicemails and an email sent Monday evening and Tuesday morning asking for more information about what happened with the website and whether the deadline would be extended.

Brad Ashwell, Florida state director of voting rights group All Voting is Local, said his organization was hearing reports well into Monday night that there were problems with the voter registration website. Ashwell said different groups are debating how long to ask for the deadline to be extended. He noted that there would

Amnesty International slams Palantir’s human rights record

Amnesty International is criticizing Palantir’s human rights record a day before the secretive Silicon Valley technology startup is set to go public.

In a report on Monday, Amnesty singled out Palantir’s contracts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Palantir’s software allows ICE to build detailed profiles of people in a single location, drawing on existing ICE data, public records and active investigations. 

Amnesty says ICE has also used Palantir’s technology in arresting the parents of children who cross the border unaccompanied and to conduct massive workplace raids, such as a 2019 raid in Mississippi  that swept up nearly 700 workers.

The data company “has sought to deflect and minimize its responsibility to protect human rights,” Amnesty said, adding that “there is a high risk that Palantir is contributing to serious human rights violations of migrants and asylum-seekers.”

“Palantir touts its ethical commitments, saying it will never work with regimes that abuse human rights abroad. This is deeply ironic, given the company’s willingness stateside to work directly with ICE, which has used its technology to execute harmful policies that target migrants and asylum-seekers,” Michael Kleinman, the director of Amnesty International’s Silicon Valley Initiative, said in a statement.

Pressure to cut ties with ICE

Palantir has previously disputed its links with deportations, saying that it does not contract with the ICE division that removes immigrants and says that its software is not used as part of detentions or deportations.

The company declined comment, citing a mandatory “quiet period” prior to its going public. 

Other news reports and activist groups have documented evidence that Palantir’s software is used to carry out deportations. Human rights groups and privacy advocates also have urged Palantir to cut ties with the federal government. The American Civil Liberties Union has