- The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a new citywide ordinance banning the use of facial recognition technology by city departments.
- The legislation passed in an 8-1 vote, making San Francisco the first city in the U.S. to block the use of the tool.
- The board noted that the only surveillance technology no longer allowed is facial recognition, all other technology will require audits and board approval.
The Ban of Facial Recognition Software and Technology
San Franciso’s Board of Supervisors approved a new citywide ordinance on Tuesday that prohibits the use of facial recognition technology by city departments.
The board voted 8-1, in favor of the move. The new legislation not only bans facial recognition software but will also require all city agencies to audit any existing and future surveillance technology. Additionally, if a department is trying to purchase new equipment or obtain surveillance footage from a third party, it must be approved by the Board.
Government and law enforcement have used facial recognition technology for years. Agencies that use the software say it’s an extremely helpful tool when it comes to investigating kidnappings or missing person as well as scamming crimes like drivers’ license fraud.
The legislation counteracts that though, stating that benefits for the technology do not outweigh the danger the software creates, with the ordinance mentioning concern with civil rights.
“The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits, and the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring. “
Arguments Against the Ban
During the same meeting, several citizens addressed Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who sponsored the ordinance, and told him about their concerns. They worried what passing the ban would mean for public safety and police surveillance.
Also opposing the ban is the nonprofit research institution, Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. The institution’s Vice President, Daniel Castro, told NPR he believes the ordinance does not consider the impact facial recognition software makes.
“There are many uses of the technology that are perfectly appropriate,” Castro explained. “We want to use the technology to find missing elderly adults. We want to use it to fight sex trafficking. We want to use it to quickly identify a suspect in case of a terrorist attack. These are very reasonable uses of the technology, and so to ban it wholesale is a very extreme reaction to a technology that many people are just now beginning to understand.”
Peskin insists the legislation is not about fighting technology or the need for it, rather it is to make sure no one is taking advantage of the software.
“This is really about public oversight of surveillance technology. It does not actually stop surveillance technology, with one exception, which is facial recognition software.” Peskin said during a board meeting in early May. “And this is really about giving policymakers the information they need to safeguard these important technologies from abuse, not from their use, but their abuse.”
Responses and Reactions
Similar to San Francisco, Massachusetts recently introduced a bill that would put a temporary ban on face recognition and other surveillance systems. The State Senate Majority Leader, Cynthia Creem, has said she sees the government using facial recognition technology as essentially being watched. She also points out that research has shown the current software still has flaws, specifically when it comes to recognizing women and people of color.
MIT published a study in 2018 where it documented the error rates in three different facial-analysis programs. The research found that when one of the programs was used to determine the gender in light skinned-males, the error rate was never higher than 0.8 percent. But when the same test was conducted for dark-skinned women, they faced error rates of over 20 percent.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will meet again at the end of May to ratify the vote, but it is expected to pass, officially making the ordinance a law.
See what others are saying: (Vox) (Tech Crunch) (CNBC)
Trump Administration Announces New DACA Restrictions
- The Trump administration has rolled back key aspects of DACA in order to review the future of the policy, including preventing new applicants and limiting other benefits for current recipients.
- In a memo, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said he was making the changes “in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.”
- Last month, the Supreme Court rejected President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to end DACA, a move that put similar restrictions in place, including preventing new applicants.
- After numerous reports of new applicants being rejected, a federal judge ruled that the SCOTUS decision meant that DACA needed to be restored to its full status and that the application process must be reopened.
- As a result, the new decision by DHS appears to violate the appellate court’s decision and will almost certainly face legal challenges.
The Trump administration on Tuesday announced a series of new restrictions to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) including prohibiting new applicants and limiting renewals of current recipients in a move that appears to directly violate a federal court ruling.
The move marks the latest attack by the Trump administration on the program, which was created via executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012 to help young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally before the age of 16, also known as DREAMers.
In September 2017, President Donald Trump announced that he was going to wind down DACA and blocked all new applications, claiming that it was unconstitutional because Obama acted outside his executive powers by creating the program without Congress’ approval.
The Supreme Court rejected that attempt last month in a 5-4 decision. Notably, the Court specifically did not say whether or not DACA was legal or illegal.
Instead, it said Trump could not end DACA because the administration did not give adequate legal reasoning to justify scrapping the program; however, the court did not prevent the Trump administration from getting rid of the program if it came up with more sound legal reasoning.
While Trump did say that he still wanted to end DACA, most legal experts believed that SCOTUS ruling meant that the program, which had been diminished under Trump, had to be restored to its full version before Trump rescinded it in September 2017.
Not only would that mean that the 650,000 DREAMers whose futures had been in limbo for nearly three years would now have security, it also meant that the Trump administration would now have to reopen DACA applications for the estimated 300,000 young immigrants who qualified for the program but were unable to apply since 2017.
But about a month after the Supreme Court decision, numerous reports began to circulate claiming that the Trump administration was rejecting new DACA applications.
As a result, on July 17, U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm ruled that the Supreme Court decision meant DACA had to be restored to its full status before Trump tried to scrap it, meaning the Trump administration must accept new applicants.
In a court hearing Friday, Trump administration officials said for the first time that they had not “granted nor rejected” any applications, but instead, had put them all “on hold” while the administration decides on the future of the DACA program; however, they also said that some applications were rejected because of an error like missing information or an incorrect fee.
Judge Grimm responded to that new information by condemning the Trump administration for not explaining to applicants why they were being rejected. He also criticized them for not updating the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website, which still said the government was not accepting new applications over a month after the Supreme Court ruling.
The Trump administration said that the website had “outdated and inaccurate information” that didn’t reflect their current policies. That did not satisfy Grimm.
“That is a problem,” he said. “As for the inaccuracy on the website, that has to change and that should be able to change very quickly… It creates a feeling and a belief that the agency is disregarding binding decisions by appellate and the Supreme Court.”
Grimm also told the administration that it must clarify the status of the program in the next 30 days.
That clarification came in the form of a memo issued by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Tuesday, where he announced that he was “making certain immediate changes to the DACA policy to facilitate my thorough consideration of how to address DACA in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.”
Those changes included rejecting all new DACA applicants, rejecting almost all requests for current DACA recipients to travel outside the U.S. except in “exceptional circumstances,” and requiring current DACA recipients to renew their deferred action and work authorizations every year instead of every two years.
Wolf did say that he was “determined to give careful consideration to whether the DACA policy should be maintained, rescinded, or modified,” but added that based on the evidence he has seen: “I have concluded that the DACA policy, at a minimum, presents serious policy concerns that may warrant its full rescission. At the same time, I have concluded that fully rescinding the policy would be a significant administration decision that warrants additional careful consideration.”
Wolf then went on to outline several reasons why he believes the program is problematic.
First, he said he has “serious doubts” about the legality of offering undocumented immigrants protection from deportation. He argued that Congress should be responsible for deciding legal protections for immigrants and that the executive action that created DACA should not be considered permanent.
Wolf also said he was worried about sending “mixed messages” on the enforcement of immigration laws.
“DACA makes clear that, for certain large classes of individuals, DHS will at least tolerate, if not affirmatively sanction, their ongoing violation of the immigration laws,” he said.
“I am deeply troubled that the message communicated by non-enforcement policies like DACA may contribute to the general problem of illegal immigration in a manner that is inconsistent with DHS’s law enforcement mission.”
Wolf’s memo is highly significant not only because it represents the Trump administration’s first official attack on DACA since the Supreme Court ruling, but also because the ruling appears to directly go against Grimm’s ruling. As a result, it is almost certain to face legal challenges.
“We obviously have no choice but to go back to court,” Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer who argued against the Trump administration’s move to get rid of DACA in the Supreme Court told the New York Times. “It was illegal the first time, and now it’s a constitutional crisis. It’s as if a Supreme Court decision was written with invisible ink.”
The Trump administration is already on the defense. On Tuesday, unidentified administration officials gave different and even contradictory explanations to different media outlets.
One official told the Wall Street Journal that the interim rules do not go against Grimm’s order because they “constitute a new DHS policy that replaces the DACA cancellation invalidated by the Supreme Court.”
But another administration official also told ABC News that the memo did not create a new program, but served as an “intervening action” while the administration reviewed the policy.
Right now, an exact timeline is unclear. Officials declined to answer whether or not the review would be completed before the election in November when asked by the Times.
Many experts believe that while Trump is positioning DACA as a key immigration issue in the election, he is unlikely to move on the question before then.
DACA is a complicated issue for Trump, who has long said the program is illegal, but DACA has been unusually popular among conservatives. Last month, a Pew Research Center poll found that 74% of Americans said they support the program, including 54% of Republicans.
By making this announcement but pushing this issue, Trump still can still energize his anti-immigrant base, while also avoiding at least some backlash from people who support the DREAMers—a point Trump himself seemed to hit on that point in a press conference Tuesday.
“We are going to make DACA happy and the DACA people and representatives happy, and also end up with a fantastic merit-based immigration system,” he said, adding that the Supreme Court’s DACA ruling gave him “more power,” though the decision said nothing about extending executive powers.
Over the last few weeks, Trump has also said that he will deal with DACA through an executive order on immigration. While his team has tried to backtrack those comments, the remarks are still quite ironic, given the fact Trump’s entire reasoning for getting rid of the program is because he claims it was executive overreach.
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times)
Here’s What You Should Do If You’re Receiving Mysterious Packages of Seeds from China
- Hundreds of Americans are receiving mysterious packages of seeds they never ordered, many of which are seemingly being sent from countries like China and Taiwan.
- Because of that, many are worried about whether the seeds are some sort of prank, scam, or even a bio weapon.
- So far, 28 states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have issued warnings not to plant the seeds, with the USDA also launching a federal investigation.
- The USDA said Tuesday that, at this point, there is nothing to suggest that these seeds are anything more than a “brushing” scam, which is a disingenuous tactic used by some companies to boost their online reviews.
Mysterious Seeds Being Delivered to U.S. Homes
In a mysterious event that has confused and concerned hundreds of Americans, people are receiving unsolicited packages of seeds from different countries.
In many cases, those seeds are being delivered in white packages (sometimes also yellow envelopes) that appear to be postmarked from countries such as China, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, or Kyrgyzstan. When recipients open those packages, they find the seeds in a sealed bag but find no indication as to what type of seeds they are.
To complicate matters, these recipients seem to be receiving different types of seeds that vary from package to package.
In several documented instances, the packages aren’t even labeled as having seeds; rather, they’re labeled as containing different items. For example, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, some packages have been labeled as jewelry. In a similar situation, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry has reported that other packages were labeled as containing earbuds or toys.
It appears that other packages labeled as jewelry or tools did, in fact, contain another inexpensive item, but those items were still accompanied by a package of seeds.
In Iowa, officials have said that some of the seeds have been treated and may also contain an unknown insecticide or fungicide.
So far, at least 28 state agriculture departments have issued warnings about these unsolicited shipments of seeds.
It follows reports from several states, such as in Virginia, where agriculture officials said they’ve received over 900 emails and several hundred telephone calls from people who’ve received these types of packages. In Louisiana, officials have confirmed that about 100 packages have been sent to people across the state. Florida officials have confirmed that about 160 people have received packages.
Because of that, on Tuesday, the United States Department of Agriculture stepped in, announcing that it is now investigating these shipments. According to a press release, it is working with Customs and Border Protection, as well as other federal agencies.
These mysterious packages aren’t only being received in the United States. Officials in Canada have also begun warning residents to be wary of unsolicited shipments.
What Should I Do if I Receive These Seeds?
If you receive seeds you did not order, do not throw them away — even if your first instinct is to get rid of them as quickly as possible. On a similar note, do not throw away the mailing label or the outer package those seeds came in.
Instead, state agriculture officials are asking you to contact them. They will then come and pick up the seeds for testing.
“At this point in time, we don’t have enough information to know if this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam, or an act of agricultural bio-terrorism,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said. “Unsolicited seeds could be invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment.”
Because of that, officials have also asked people not to plant the seeds as they could introduce foreign pathogens or overwhelm native species; however, in states like Iowa, local outlets reported that some people have already planted those seeds after mistaking them for other seeds they had ordered. In response, Iowa’s agriculture department has now asked people to pull up and destroy those plants.
In reality, agriculture officials aren’t yet certain if the packages actually originated from China or another country. It could also take time to reach such a conclusion, as the USDA is likely going to have to go through thousands of different seeds.
Meanwhile, China has explicitly denied shipping the packages, saying its postal service strictly abides by restrictions on sending seeds.
“After verification with China Post, those address labels turned out to be fake ones with erroneous layouts and entries,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. “China Post has contacted USPS, asking it to send those fake packages to China for investigation.”
Many States Now Believe this Could be a “Brushing Scam”
In its press release, the USDA said it believes the mysterious packages could be tied to review scams.
“At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales,” the release states.
A “brushing scam” can work a little like this: A seller of a product creates a fake customer account online—for example, a fake account on Amazon. That seller then places an order for their own product before sending it to an address in another country. Thus, while the account is fake, the address is very much real.
Using a real address then gives the seller the ability to post positive reviews of their own products, thereby improving their ranking on the site.
Because it is still unclear if this is a brushing scam, it is also unclear whether the sellers potentially running the scam sell seeds or another product.
Still, even if this does prove to be a scam, that doesn’t mean officials aren’t still concerned about the contents being shipped. For example, in Washington, agriculture officials believe some of the packages received in the state contained citrus seeds, which could transmit disease among other citrus.
See what others are saying: (Iowa Central Dispatch) (NBC News) (Reuters)
Twitter Removes Trump Tweet of Doctor Promoting “Cure” for COVID-19 After that Video Goes Viral
- A video of Dr. Stella Immanuel went viral on Monday on multiple platforms after she claimed that hydroxychloroquine was a cure for COVID-19.
- Immanuel also claimed that people should not be wearing masks and suggested that lockdowns are unnecessary.
- Her claims fly in the face of warnings and recommendations from the broader medical community, and she has made even bolder claims in the past, including that alien DNA is being used in medical treatments and that the government is run by inhuman beings, among other things.
- Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have all worked to scrub the video from their platforms; however, it received further attention when President Donald Trump retweeted the video before Twitter took it down.
#HydroxychloroquineWorks Video Trends
Social media sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter have all moved to delete a viral video that shows a doctor touting hydroxychloroquine as a “cure” for COVID-19, claiming that people should not wear masks, and suggesting that lockdowns are unnecessary.
The video was ultimately seen more than 13 million times on Facebook alone and trended under #HydroxychloroquineWorks on Twitter. Before Twitter deleted it on Tuesday morning, the video had already been shared by President Donald Trump on his personal account.
In that video, a group of physicians can be seen standing outside of the Supreme Court’s steps in Washington D.C. Reportedly, they are part of a conference known as the America’s Frontline Doctors Summit, which started Monday and goes through Tuesday.
“…there is no way I can treat 350 patients and counting, and nobody is dead, and they all did better,” Houston-based Dr. Stella Immanuel says in the video. “And then you’re going to tell me that you did it on 20 people, 40 people, and it didn’t work. I’m a true testament. So I came here to Washington D.C. to tell America nobody has to get sick. This virus has a cure. It’s called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax.”
Despite Immanuel’s claims, both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently state that there is no known cure or effective treatment option for COVID-19.
Immanuel also continues by making more statements that are at odds with the recommendations of the broader medical community.
“I know you people want to talk about masks,” she said. “Hello, you don’t need masks. There is a cure. I know they don’t want to open schools. No, you don’t need for people to be locked down. There is prevention and there is a cure.”
Despite arguing that Americans don’t need to wear masks, current CDC guidance states:
“Cloth face coverings may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others. Wearing a cloth face covering will help protect people around you, including those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and workers who frequently come into close contact with other people.”
Immanuel’s suggestion that there shouldn’t be lockdowns also conflicts with many health professionals’ recommendations and seemingly doesn’t take into account states like Florida and California, where COVID-19 cases have spiked following partial reopenings.
Who is Dr. Stella Immanuel?
Dr. Stella Immanul is a general practitioner from Houston and has reportedly been at the Rehoboth Medical Center since October 2019. She is also the founder of Fire Power Ministries, a church she founded in 2002.
However, she’s made a number of bold — to say the least — claims in the past. For example, she has claimed that gynecological problems like cysts, endometriosis, and infertility can be caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches, which she refers to as “spirit husbands” and “spirit wives.”
She has also claimed that alien DNA is currently being used in medical treatments and suggested that scientists are using vaccines to prevent people from being religious. She has also suggested that the government is run by inhuman beings.
“There are people that are ruling this nation that are not even human,” Immanuel said in a 2015 sermon, before saying she had a conversation with a “reptilian spirit” that was “half-human, half-E.T.”
Video Taken Down on Social Media, Shared by Trump on Twitter
Facebook has said it took down the clip of Immanuel on Monday night because it shared “false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19.”
“We’re showing messages in News Feed to people who have reacted to, commented on or shared harmful COVID-19-related misinformation that we have removed, connecting them to myths debunked by the WHO,” a Facebook spokesperson added.
After that, YouTube removed the video from its platform.
Tuesday morning, Twitter followed suit. While in many cases, it only removed the video embedded into tweets, not the tweets themselves, it did go further in two notable cases.
For example, Twitter has completely removed a retweet of that clip from the president’s personal account, even though that tweet still exists outside of his account (albeit just without the embedded clip). Notably, that tweet calls Immanuel a “fearless warrior of truth.”
The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., also caught Twitter’s attention for uploading a clip of Immanuel’s speech. Because of that, Twitter then restricted his ability to tweet for 12 hours.
Still, even though these platforms have “taken down” the clip, it’s not really gone. A simple search on Twitter easily yields the clip within the first few results.
What Is Hydroxychloroquine?
Hydroxychloroquine has been touted repeatedly by Trump as a treatment for COVID-19, despite there being major concerns around it.
While hydroxychloroquine is approved by the FDA, it is only approved for use in malaria patients, as well as patients with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis; however, doctors are still able to prescribe it “off-label.”
Early in the pandemic, several small studies indicated that maybe hydroxychloroquine could be used to effectively treat COVID patients. From there, Trump began describing the drug as a “game-changer.”
In late March, the FDA gave emergency approval to the Trump administration to distribute millions of hydroxychloroquine pills to hospitals in an attempt to treat COVID patients. At the time, the FDA said that the benefit of trying the still unproven use of the drug outweighed the risks.
In April, the FDA issued a warning for hydroxychloroquine, saying it should only be used in hospital settings or clinical trials, this because studies have shown it to cause heart arrhythmias. In fact, in one study looking at Veterans Affairs patients who had contracted COVID-19, it was even linked to higher rates of death. In June, the FDA rescinded its emergency approval, saying that hydroxychloroquine is “unlikely to be effective.”
The administration also then flipped its original statement, saying any potential benefits are outweighed by safety risks.
There, the FDA cited 400 reports of adverse events—including 109 serious cardiac episodes, 25 of which resulted in death. For most cases, the FDA said affected patients were also taking other drugs that also raised risks of heart problems.
Earlier this month, the journal Annals of Internal Medicine reported that hydroxychloroquine as an early treatment for COVID-19 did not work better than a placebo at reducing patients’ severity of symptoms over 14 days.