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Most people don’t know just how much data ISPs collect from them
It’s been clear to anyone paying attention over the years that with all the (justified) talk about how much personal data giant social platforms harvest from their users and later monetize or share in various ways, including with advertisers and government agencies – the ISPs are very much playing the same game, while being (unjustifiably) left out of that particular spotlight.
Many people use privacy-focused tech while forgetting about the data their internet providers are already collecting in realtime.
We explore this today.
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Singer Van Morrison is sued for calling Northern Ireland’s Health minister “dangerous” over COVID restrictions
Singer-songwriter Sir Van Morrison has been sued by Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann for defamation over comments he made in a video posted to social media. The lawsuit was filed after the singer called the health minister “very dangerous” for the enforcement of pandemic-related measures.
In September, Swann’s legal team filed a lawsuit against Morrison, claiming the singer’s remarks were defamatory to the health minister.
“Proceedings have been issued and are ongoing against Van Morrison. We are aiming for a trial in February,” Swann’s lawyer, Paul Tweed, told local media on Sunday.
Tweed is a high-profile libel attorney who has represented the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Justin Timberlake.
The minister and singer’s beef began after Morrison’s gig in Belfast was canceled as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Morrison was still able to perform and used the opportunity to take shots at the minister.
“Robin Swann has all the power. So I say Robin Swann is very dangerous,” Morison told the audience. He also allegedly tried to get the crowd to chant “Robin Swann is very dangerous.”
Morrison doubled down on the remarks, posting a YouTube video saying, “No, I don’t regret it. Of course he’s dangerous.” He added that the health minister was a “fraud.”
Morrison’s lawyer said that his client “regretted” that the minister had filed the lawsuit, and was “disappointed by the publicity that surrounds the issue of the proceedings also.”
The lawyer added that Morrison had “consistently campaigned” for the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions because they were “unlawful insofar as they imposed a blanket ban on the ability of all musicians to perform live music, thereby endangering their livelihoods.”
Last year, Swann blasted Morrison for releasing anti-lockdown songs, including “No More Lockdown,” “Born to be Free,” and “As I Walked Out.”
A hearing is likely expected in early 2022.
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PROFITS OVER PRINCIPLES
Bible app ArtBible receives Apple Chinese censorship notice
Another app has received a warning from the US giant about the need to comply with Chinese internet censorship. This time it’s ArtBible.
In order to remain in the Chinese market, apps in Apple’s online store must adhere to Beijing’s censorship rules.
ArtBible – that offers the complete King James Version of the Bible, and allows users to view over 900 works of art on their mobile devices – is still available in the US and mainland China.
But it remains to be seen how the situation will unfold, all the more so since the deadline given for an update to the app to be published is December 5, while the developer announced that they would not be complying by including something known as “internet publishing license” China requires for apps with book or magazine content in that update.
AppleCensorship said it would monitor the situation, and provided its Twitter followers for links to see updated information regarding this case and the future availability of ArtBible in mainland China.
Announcing that they received the “dreaded” letter from Apple about compliance with Chinese rules, ArtBible developers included a screenshot of a part of the letter, which states that China requires apps in the book and magazine category to have permits issued by the country’s National Press Publication Administration.
An internet publishing license as well as “related documentation” is what it will take for Apple to keep ArtBible in its Chinese store.
Apple’s letter further warns that failing to comply will mean the app will be removed from the store on December 5, and that a workaround such as changing the app’s category will not work.
“You must provide a relevant permit,” Apple was explicit.
Recently, AppleCensorship published a report on what it calls the staggering scale of censorship that Apple applies in its various stores around the world, with a vast majority – 1,182 removals out of a total of 1,470 reported by Apple for the period between July 2018 and December 2020, occurring in China.
SAVED BY PEDANTIC RULE
Scottish club, whose profits were killed by vaccine passports, finds a loophole
Nightclubs in Scotland are putting furniture on dancefloors to avoid having to comply with the Scottish National Party (SNP) government’s controversial vaccine passports. Critics have described the vaccine passport scheme in the country as “shambolic” and an affront to civil liberties.
Lulu, a venue that describes itself as “Edinburgh’s best nightclub,” started advertising on Instagram that it had resumed “service” and customers “don’t need a vaccine passport to party with us.”
Related: How vaccine passports are crushing freedom, privacy, and civil liberties
Under Scotland’s vaccine passport rules, a nightclub is a venue featuring a space “provided for dancing for customers.” Nightclubs such as Lulu are using that definition as a loophole to avoid having to comply with the rules requiring them to demand vaccine passports from customers.
Lulu’s managing director Innes Bolt, speaking to Edinburgh Live, explained the move saying: “We have experienced a significant decline in footfall resulting in a crash in our sales which meant that Lulu was running at a loss.
“To protect our staff, promoters and business, we have removed the designated dance floor and reconfigured our space. Instead, we have created a new seating area, bringing in additional furniture to occupy that space and repositioning our DJ Booth.
“This change will allow us to maintain a safe and controlled environment throughout.”
According to The Telegraph, Lulu is not the only nightclub skirting the rules by covering its dance floor with furniture.
The Scottish Conservative Covid recovery spokesperson Murdo Fraser said the SNP should be “embarrassed” for implementing “such a mess of a scheme.”
JAILED FOR REPORTING
Family request parole for jailed Wuhan whistleblower journalist
Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who was arrested and currently serving a four-year sentence for reporting on the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan, has been protesting her sentence through a hunger strike. Her health has deteriorated to the extent her family is seeking medical parole.
Zhang was arrested last year in April and sentenced in December for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (a vague charge used to stifle dissent in China). She was charged for live reports she had streamed from Wuhan to reveal how the government had attempted to cover up the coronavirus outbreak.
The government claimed that her coverage was “maliciously fabricated content and false information.” She was the first citizen journalist to be charged in court for reporting on the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan.
She began the intermittent hunger strike a month after her arrest, May last year. She has been force fed via a nasal tube and even restrained from removing the tube. At her trial, about eight months after her arrest, she told her lawyer that she was “mentally and physically exhausted.”
Zhan attended the trial in a wheelchair, and even after being sentenced she continued with the hunger strike to protest her “unlawful detention and indictment.”
She has lost a lot of weight and has had to be hospitalized. According to her brother, Zhang Ju, Zhan’s weight had dropped to 40kg (88lbs) in August, and her condition has worsened since then.
Ju added that during a virtual meeting with their mother last month, Zhan appeared “completely out of shape” and could not walk on her own.
“[In August] the prison doctor already acknowledged that Zhang Zhan could die, weighing only 40kg. I think she is well below 40kg now,” he said to the South China Morning Post.
“Zhang Zhan’s condition is much worse than it was in the summer. Her life is in danger,” he continued, adding that the family feared that Zhan “might not make it through this winter.”
They have applied for medical parole in hopes of saving her life.
“My mother couldn’t stop crying after the meeting. The lawyer is applying for medical parole but the chance of approval is extremely slim.”
Ju said that he has begun retelling stories of his sister’s childhood because she fears she might die and the world would not even know about it.
“I fear that Zhang Zhan may die [in prison] and the world wouldn’t know about it,” he said.
“Her existence is not tolerated in [China] and her work is censored so most Chinese people don’t know about it. But it doesn’t mean she will not be praised or recognized by the world in the future.
“Her work is significant but it comes as an enormous tragedy to herself and her family.”
US Treasury bypasses Fourth Amendment by buying app data
The blurring of lines between private and public where US government and tech companies are concerned is once again highlighted, this time in reports looking into the way the US Treasury is acquiring user data from private apps, including those like Babel Street that are suspected of providing federal authorities with a way to bypass Fourth Amendment protections (related to unlawful searches).
The Intercept says it managed to see two contracts the Treasury has with Babel Street. The information became available thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request obtained by the Tech Inquiry group. Bloomberg describes Babel Street as a company that provides virtual data and intelligence solutions by collecting, analyzing and reporting information from online and private electric sources.
Related: Intelligence agencies bypass the need for warrants by buying data harvested from smartphones
Those upset by the government’s deals with the company – designed to help target those committing tax offenses or attempting to circumvent economic sanctions – say that this way of acquiring information from mobile devices of users, including location data, represents a workaround of restrictions imposed by due process.
The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the enforcer of US policy of sanctions against other countries, signed a contract worth just under $150K in July, to buy data from Babel Street collected by the Locate X tool that tracks movement of people. Crucially, this federal agency – that has been criticized for insufficient accountability to Congress by the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University’s Law School – can make use of this data without a search warrant.
The second contract, signed in September, cost the Treasury about the same amount of money, and stipulates that the IRS, the US tax agency, will be given software by Babel Street used to scrape data from “public facing digital media records.”
The goal is to flush out private citizens or small businesses who might be behind on their taxes by poring over their social media posts. Judging by past information about Babel Street’s business, this will highly likely cover Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
When the IRS first sought to find a private partner to carry out this task, it said that the company’s surveillance of social media posts must include “available biometric data, such as photos, current address, or changes to marital status, provide publicly available information of taxpayers’ past or present locations, reports showing that a taxpayer participated in an online chat room, blog, or forum, and reports showing the chat room or blog conversation threads.”
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