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posted by martyb on Saturday September 30, @02:44PM   Printer-friendly
from the petty-level-disputes dept.

If Congress does not pass a measure to fund the government by Sunday, October 1, a partial shutdown of the United States government will begin. Much of the federal government is funded each fiscal year by 12 appropriations bills. None of the appropriations bills for the 2024 fiscal year have been signed into law, which is not especially uncommon at the start of a new fiscal year. Instead, Congress authorizes funding at the levels from the previous fiscal year through a continuing resolution (CR), and then the appropriations bills are signed into law when they are ready. The Senate is scheduled to vote on such a CR on Saturday, though any Senator can refuse the expedited process for debating the bill, and delay the vote until Monday. Although the CR is expected to pass the Senate with bipartisan support, the House is highly unlikely to pass any funding bills before the government shutdown begins.

The impending government shutdown is likely to have significant effects on scientific research, as noted in a Nature article:

Fuelled by infighting among Republicans in the House of Representatives over spending cuts, the United States is barreling towards a government shutdown. Lawmakers in the US Congress have until 30 September (the end of the fiscal year) to reach an agreement over how to keep money flowing to federal agencies, or the government will have to close many of its doors and furlough staff — including tens of thousands of scientists — without pay. Depending on how long the shutdown lasts, work at science agencies will stop, interrupting experiments, delaying the approval of research grants and halting travel to scientific conferences.

A lot of academic research is funded from government grants from agencies like NSF. For grants that have already been approved, universities can continue to conduct research. However, the shutdown will halt the review and approval of new grants. The same article from Nature reports:

The US National Science Foundation (NSF), expects to halt work for 1,487 out of its 1,946 employees, once short-term funding runs out, for example. Scientists can continue to submit applications for funding to the agency, which pays for about one-quarter of the taxpayer-supported basic research in the United States, but no new projects will be approved. The Department of Health and Human Services, which houses the US National Institutes of Health, a significant funder of biomedical research, plans to furlough some 37,325 people — 42% of its staff — by the second day of a shutdown. 'Essential' staff working at its clinical centre or on public-safety missions such as monitoring for viral outbreaks will continue to report to work.

An article in Science states that many clinical trials supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be affected:

NIH was mostly spared in the last shutdown because its budget had already been approved by Congress, but this time it will feel the impact. A subset of its nearly 19,800 employees—just 4427, or 22%—will remain on duty to care for patients at the NIH Clinical Center and maintain research animals and cell lines for labs in the agency's intramural research program. No new patients will be enrolled in trials unless their illness is life threatening. The agency also expects to keep open PubMed, which holds biomedical research abstracts needed for health care, and the registry, where reporting of clinical studies is a legal requirement.

However, the Science article notes that some astronomy research will continue to be conducted during the shutdown due to leftover funds from the current fiscal year or other external funding:

As for research infrastructure that NSF supports, a small number of employees deemed essential will continue to provide support for research programs in the Arctic and Antarctic. And many NSF-funded telescopes should be able to remain open for an extended period thanks to extra funding the agency provided this year to tide them over in case of a shutdown. Most of the optical telescopes are managed for NSF by a nongovernmental organization, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). It has "sufficient financial resources to maintain our functional and research activities for a reasonable length of time," an AURA spokesperson told ScienceInsider.

At the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), run by a university coalition, "We are doing exactly nothing special to prepare for the shutdown," Director Tony Beasley says. That contrasts with the government shutdown of 2013, when NRAO was forced to switch off its U.S.-based facilities after just a few days.

Other agencies will continue to provide services that are deemed essential but will cease other operations. For example, the National Weather Service will continue to issue forecasts and warnings but research to improve weather forecasts will be halted during a shutdown. As in the 2019 government shutdown, the forecasters who issue alerts such as tornado and hurricane warnings will be expected to do so but won't be paid until the shutdown ends.

In summary, the looming government shutdown will not halt science-related activities that are deemed necessary to imminently protecting life and property, such as issuing weather warnings. However, the employees who provide those services will not get paid until after the government shutdown ends. For agencies that do not have supplemental funds available, scientific research will generally be halted.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Sunday September 17, @02:03AM   Printer-friendly

Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:

The decision, published Friday, was hailed by conservative litigation group the New Civil Liberties Alliance as a victory for free speech. But Eric Goldman, a professor, Santa Clara University School of Law, believes Biden administration foes may have scored an own-goal.

The lower court ruling [PDF], from Louisiana federal district Judge Terry A. Doughty on July 4, partially granted an injunction that broadly limited the extent to which US government agencies can deem content so potentially harmful that they urge social media sites to remove it from their services.

Judge Doughty determined that the plaintiffs – the State of Missouri, the State of Louisiana, Dr Aaron Kheriaty, Dr Martin Kulldorff, Jim Hoft, Dr Jayanta Bhattacharya, and Jill Hines – made sufficiently strong arguments that their speech was suppressed at the direction of the government that they are likely to succeed at trial.

In short: the judge partially granted their request to prohibit the government from telling social media companies how to moderate content.

The United States government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian 'Ministry of Truth'

"Although this case is still relatively young, and at this stage the court is only examining it in terms of plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits, the evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario," Judge Doughty wrote in a memorandum explaining his ruling.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian 'Ministry of Truth.'"

[...] The Fifth Circuit, called the "most politically conservative circuit court" in the US, dialed that injunction back somewhat. The appellate ruling [PDF] affirmed part of the ruling, reversed part of it, vacated part of the injunction, modified part of the injunction.

The three-judge appeals panel said nine of the lower court's ten prohibitions were vague and overly broad at this stage of the litigation.

"Prohibitions one, two, three, four, five, and seven prohibit the officials from engaging in, essentially, any action 'for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing' content moderation," the appeals panel said. "But 'urging, encouraging, pressuring' or even 'inducing' action does not violate the Constitution unless and until such conduct crosses the line into coercion or significant encouragement."

And citing problems with prohibitions eight, nine and ten, they vacated all save for the sixth, which they modified to state that government officials or their agents can take "no actions, formal or informal, directly or indirectly, to coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech."

Not all speech in the US is protected, so this injunction – in place while the case is being heard – does not apply to government communication to social media companies about: incitement to imminent unlawful action; harassment; credible threats; defamation; obscenity and child pornography; among other exceptions.

"The line between impermissible state intervention and ordinary government functions is really murky, and this opinion doesn't really try to clarify that," Santa Clara University’s Goldman told The Register in a phone interview.

"They simply decide some things are impermissible. Other things are okay. And that makes the rule from the case impossible to operationalize, for the government and possibly for the services. Nobody exactly knows what they're going to be required to do based on this ruling."

The line between impermissible state intervention and ordinary government functions is really murky, and this opinion doesn't really try to clarify that

[...] "The court said it is impermissible for the government to commandeer content moderation practices," he said. "But that's exactly what the Florida and Texas social media censorship laws did. They literally overrode the social media companies' editorial discretion via government edict.

"And thus, the Fifth Circuit, the same court, upheld those interventions, saying that was constitutionally permissible for the government to dictate content moderation operations. In other words, this opinion is in irreconcilable tension with the Fifth Circuit's earlier opinion on the social media censorship laws."

Also, Goldman observed that the Fifth Circuit seems to be saying that these social media companies risk becoming state actors by engaging with government officials.

For example, with regard to platform cooperation in limiting health misinformation, there's passage in the opinion that says, "In sum, we find that the White House officials, in conjunction with the Surgeon General's office, coerced and significantly encouraged the platforms to moderate content. As a result, the platforms’ actions 'must in law be deemed to be that of the State.'"

"That's a huge problem for the government," he continued. "If internet companies become state actors, then they cannot report information about their users to law enforcement unless they comply with all the laws on criminal procedure."

As an example, Goldman cited how the government requires internet services to provide data about child sexual abuse material. If those companies become state actors through government intervention, he said, then those reports become impermissible evidence because they haven't been done in compliance with legal rules that constrain the government.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Wednesday May 31 2023, @10:39AM   Printer-friendly

On tech, the EU doesn't speak for Europe:

The European Commission of President Ursula von der Leyen vowed in 2019 to make "a Europe fit for the digital age," dubbing the 2020s Europe's "digital decade."

Building on the European Union's flagship privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Brussels's regulatory race to the top gained historic momentum over the past four years. And from digital markets to content moderation, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, computer chips and data governance, the Commission has left little on the table in terms of regulation.

Bolstered by mended ties with the administration of United States President Joe Biden and increased coordination with the U.S. through the Trade and Technology Council (TTC), the von der Leyen Commission seems to have achieved the impossible in an often rancorous 27-member bloc — a unified Europe around a common digital agenda.

But this narrative of unity obfuscates a much more complex reality in which the Commission's policies are dominated by its two largest — and most zealously regulatory — countries: France and Germany. In fact, Europe's smaller but most tech-oriented members rarely feel heard in the halls of Brussels, even as they often disagree with the Commission's agenda.

Privately, officials from these countries say the Commission's strategy will hamper innovation by imposing complex compliance rules on smaller companies that can't afford to implement them. They also worry that foreign investment — particularly from U.S. investors, which are responsible for a whopping 76 percent of foreign investment in European tech companies — will wane as the Commission goes after large American tech firms. And many lament that Brexit took away the United Kingdom's counterbalancing voice, leaving a vacuum for France and Germany to fill.

While these concerns are rarely aired publicly, simply put, Central and Northern Europe know that when it comes to tech, the EU doesn't speak for Europe.

And no wonder: None of the EU's major institutions — the Commission, the European Council or the European Parliament — have Central Europeans at the helm, even as the power balance in Europe shifts eastward after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Proportional representation in the Parliament also means that the largest countries — France, Germany and Italy — have the most power in terms of votes. Even if all the Nordic, Baltic and Central European countries voted as a block — which they don't — they would still have fewer votes (191) than just France, Germany and Italy (251).

As a result, smaller countries then need to prioritize focusing on the most critical issues — defense and security — and the Parliament's ability to set Europe's tech agenda is then hamstrung by the Commission's sole power to propose legislation.

But just as the power balance on defense and deterrence is shifting to the east and north, so are the economic headwinds when it comes to tech innovation and investment.

For example, Helsinki, Stockholm and Tallinn have higher growth rates for capital invested in startups than London, Munich and Paris. And while unicorns — or firms valued at $1 billion or more and are still predominantly privately owned — in Western Europe still raise nearly double the amount of money as those in "new Europe," the latter has the highest valuation-to-investment ratio on the Continent.

In short, tech companies in Central and Eastern Europe do more with less.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Tuesday May 30 2023, @01:19PM   Printer-friendly
from the we-want-you-to-do-things-OUR-way dept.

China appeals to Japan to halt export restrictions as chip war escalates:

China is urging Japan to repeal restrictions on the export of chip-making technology, citing violations of international and trade regulations.

Beijing's condemnation is the latest development in the ongoing chip war between the US and China, which has seen moves from both nations to thwart each other's semiconductor manufacturing prowess.

The Japanese government's move to impose a ban on chip exports comes days after China banned the use of Semiconductors manufactured by US-based chipmaker Micron, citing a cybersecurity issue.

[...] In January, the US convinced The Netherlands and Japan to join it in expanding a ban on exports of chip-making technology to China.

According to analysts, Washington's strategy to strike a deal with the two countries was a significant move, as some of the world's largest manufacturers of semiconductor manufacturing equipment are headquartered in these nations.

The US first imposed restrictions on exports of chips to China in 2015, extending them in 2021 and twice in 2022. The most recent restrictions were introduced in December.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Friday April 28 2023, @07:23PM   Printer-friendly

Brace Yourself for the 2024 Deepfake Election:

Artificial intelligence was once something the average person described in the abstract. They had no tactile relationship with it that they were aware of, even if their devices were often utilizing it. That's all changed over the past year as people have started to engage with AI programs like OpenAI's DALL-E and ChatGPT, and the technology is rapidly advancing.

As AI is democratized, democracy itself is falling under new pressures. There will likely be many exciting ways it will be deployed, but it may also start to distort reality and could become a major threat to the 2024 presidential election if AI-generated audio, images, and videos of candidates proliferate. The line between what's real and what's fake could start to blur significantly more than it already has in an age of rampant disinformation.

"We've seen pretty dramatic shifts in the landscape when it comes to generative tools—particularly in the last year," says Henry Ajder, an independent AI expert. "I think the scale of content we're now seeing being produced is directly related to that dramatic opening up of accessibility."

It's not a question of whether AI-generated content is going to start playing a role in politics, because it's already happening. AI-generated images and videos featuring president Joe Biden and Donald Trump have started spreading around the internet. Republicans recently used AI to generate an attack ad against Biden. The question is, what will happen when anyone can open their laptop and, with minimal effort, quickly create a convincing deepfake of a politician?

There are plenty of ways to generate AI images from text, such as DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion. It's easy to generate a clone of someone's voice with an AI program like the one offered by ElevenLabs. Convincing deepfake videos are still difficult to produce, but Ajder says that might not be the case within a year or so.

"To create a really high-quality deepfake still requires a fair degree of expertise, as well as post-production expertise to touch up the output the AI generates," Ajder says. "Video is really the next frontier in generative AI."

Some deepfakes of political figures have emerged in recent years, such as one of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy telling his troops to surrender that was released last year. Once the technology has advanced more, which may not take long considering how quickly other forms of generative AI are advancing, more of these types of videos may appear as they become more convincing and easier to produce.

"I don't think there's a website where you can say, 'Create me a video of Joe Biden saying X.' That doesn't exist, but it will," says Hany Farid, a professor at UC Berkeley's School of Information. "It's just a matter of time. People are already working on text-to-video."

That includes companies like RunwayGoogle, and Meta. Once one company releases a high-quality version of a text-to-video generative AI tool, we may see many others quickly release their own versions, as we did after ChatGPT was released. Farid says that nobody wants to get "left behind," so these companies tend to just release what they have as soon as they can.

"It consistently amazes me that in the physical world, when we release products there are really stringent guidelines," Farid says. "You can't release a product and hope it doesn't kill your customer. But with software, we're like, 'This doesn't really work, but let's see what happens when we release it to billions of people.'"

If we start to see a significant number of deepfakes spreading during the election, it's easy to imagine someone like Donald Trump sharing this kind of content on social media and claiming it's real. A deepfake of President Biden saying something disqualifying could come out shortly before the election, and many people might never find out it was AI-generated. Research has consistently shown, after all, that fake news spreads further than real news.

Even if deepfakes don't become ubiquitous before the 2024 election, which is still 18 months away, the mere fact that this kind of content can be created could affect the election. Knowing that fraudulent images, audio, and video can be created relatively easily could make people distrust the legitimate material they come across.

"In some respects, deepfakes and generative AI don't even need to be involved in the election for them to still cause disruption, because now the well has been poisoned with this idea that anything could be fake," says Ajder. "That provides a really useful excuse if something inconvenient comes out featuring you. You can dismiss it as fake."

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Saturday April 01 2023, @07:04PM   Printer-friendly

If you still want your Mao memorabilia, you better hurry down to Tiananmen Square, Beijing, while you still have the chance.

In China, the State Council is somewhat comparable to the Cabinet. Headed by the Prime Minister and consisting of the heads of the various Ministries (Defense, Commerce, Education, Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Justice, Civil Affairs, State Security, Public Security and so on), it handles the day-to-day running of the country while formulating economic policy.

Its operational procedures are described in a document, conveniently titled "Working Procedures for the State Council". On March 18, an updated version of that document was published, and it has a couple of changes.

First off, the State Council now has to "report any major decisions, major events and important situations" to the Central Committee "in a timely manner." Previous edition sentences like "administration according to law, seeking truth from facts, democracy, openness, pragmatism and integrity" have been scrapped, as has the requirement for the State Council "to correct illegal or inappropriate administrative actions", or to "guide and supervise" the bureaucracy. In other words, its wings have been seriously clipped.

Secondly, any and all references to Marxism/Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, the thought of Deng Xiaoping and the ideologies of former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao are now verboten. Only references to Xi Jinping Thought are allowed, as that is "the essence of Chinese culture and the spirit of the times".

To drive the point home, the Central Committee of the CCP launched another nationwide disciplinary campaign among its 96 million members.

This round will check them for loyalty to supreme leader Xi Jinping, weeding out "black sheep" and "two-faced" officials.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Saturday March 18 2023, @05:27AM   Printer-friendly

A bruising, failed 16-month FCC nomination has left President Joe Biden with little time to staff up the agency before 2024:

Shortly after coming into office, President Joe Biden moved to restore net neutrality. He signed a sweeping executive order to promote competition, calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to bring back the Obama-era internet rules rolled back by the Trump administration.

But close to two years later, the FCC remains deadlocked with only four of its five commissioner slots filled — and Biden may be running out of time.

Biden's pick for a new FCC commissioner was Gigi Sohn, a former FCC official and public interest advocate. Sohn would have secured a long-awaited Democratic majority at the agency. After she was nominated in October 2021, however, a well-funded opposition organized a brutal opposition campaign against her. The culture-war campaign called Sohn an "extremist" and a "censor" because of past tweets criticizing Fox News and former President Donald Trump, largely ignoring her decades-long professional record. After more than 16 months and three separate confirmation hearings, Sohn withdrew her nomination earlier this month, citing the "unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks" by broadband and cable lobbyists and their friends.

It's unlikely Biden will pick someone as critical of cable companies again — but Republicans could try to thwart even a centrist candidate

Now, the White House has been forced to start over, prolonging a vacancy that continues to obstruct the administration's broadband agenda. The White House hasn't announced a new nominee or when they're hoping to confirm someone, but it's unlikely that Biden would pick someone as critical of cable companies as Sohn. Republicans and "dark money" groups have already proved that they're willing to spend millions to block progressive nominees. With so little time left in Biden's first term, stakeholders may even try to thwart a more moderate nominee, especially if there's an opportunity to continue the stalemate past the 2024 election.

Even if the White House selects a new nominee in the next few weeks, it could take months for them to be vetted and confirmed by the Senate. If the White House drags its feet in finding a replacement, Biden could be without a fifth commissioner when the 2024 election season begins. "The FCC deadlock, now over two years long, will remain so for a long time," Sohn said in a statement announcing her withdrawal last week. "It is a sad day for our country and our democracy when dominant industries, with assistance from unlimited dark money, get to choose their regulators."

Net neutrality, which bans internet service providers from favoring or degrading the quality of specific services, was one of Biden's big-ticket promises. But as it's an issue that mostly splits down party lines, the FCC's stalemate has left his hands tied — putting states in charge of issuing their own patchwork rules.

Other parts of Biden's agenda have suffered the same problem, including ones that are facing looming deadlines.

His 2021 infrastructure package required the agency to craft rules that would ensure all Americans, despite income status, have equal access to the internet. The agency has until November to draft these new digital discrimination rules, but civil rights groups fear it may be impossible to roll out meaningful protections without a third commissioner.

"If advanced, the rule could hold broadband providers liable if their practices result in less internet access for people of color and low income communities, even if companies don't intentionally discriminate," the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a February statement on the rulemaking. "Without a fully functioning FCC, that rule is likely to be much weaker."

"Lack of FCC oversight has enabled collection and sale of cell phone location data that puts vulnerable communities at risk"

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Wednesday February 22 2023, @12:21PM   Printer-friendly

It's unclear if the two lawmakers know what messenger RNA is exactly:

Two Republican lawmakers in Idaho have introduced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for anyone in the state to administer mRNA-based vaccines—namely the lifesaving and remarkably safe COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. If passed as written, it would also preemptively ban the use of countless other mRNA vaccines that are now in development, such as shots for RSV, a variety of cancers, HIV, flu, Nipah virus, and cystic fibrosis, among others.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Tammy Nichols of Middleton and Rep. Judy Boyle of Midvale, both staunch conservatives who say they stand for freedom and the right to life. But their bill, HB 154, proposes that "a person may not provide or administer a vaccine developed using messenger ribonucleic acid [mRNA] technology for use in an individual or any other mammal in this state." If passed into law, anyone administering lifesaving mRNA-based vaccines would be guilty of a misdemeanor, which could result in jail time and/or a fine.

While presenting the bill to the House Health & Welfare Committee last week, Nichols said their anti-mRNA stance stems from the fact that the COVID-19 vaccines were initially allowed under emergency use authorizations (EUAs) from the Food and Drug Administration, not the agency's full regulatory approval. "We have issues that this was fast-tracked," she told fellow lawmakers, according to reporting from local news outlet

The EUAs for the two mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines were issued in December 2020, and the FDA has subsequently granted full approval to both (Pfizer-BioNTech's in August 2021 and Moderna's in January 2022). This was pointed out to Nichols in the hearing last week.

[...] There have been rare reports of adverse events, including blood clots and inflammation of the heart muscle and lining (myocarditis and pericarditis). However, these problems are very rare, and, in the case of myocarditis and pericarditis, they tend to be mild. Independent health experts who advise the FDA and CDC have consistently determined that the risk of developing these conditions does not outweigh the benefits of vaccination.

[...] With the massive success of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, expectations are high that the platform can be used to target a wide variety of other infectious and non-infectious diseases. Moderna, for instance, has a wide pipeline of mRNA-based vaccines in the works. Already this year, the company reported findings from a late-stage clinical trial indicating their mRNA-based vaccine against RSV (respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus) was highly effective. RSV is a common respiratory virus that can be deadly to older adults and young children.

In Idaho, it's unclear if Nichols and Boyle's bill will make it through the committee and, further, into law. However, its introduction fits into a worrying trend by conservative lawmakers for attacking lifesaving vaccination and evidence-based medicine, generally.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Thursday February 16 2023, @07:03PM   Printer-friendly

Opponents say laws preventing underage porn access are vague, pose privacy risks:

After decades of America fretting over minors potentially being overexposed to pornography online, several states are suddenly moving fast in 2023 to attempt to keep kids off porn sites by passing laws requiring age verification.

Last month, Louisiana became the first state to require an ID from residents to access pornography online. Since then, seven states have rushed to follow in Louisiana's footsteps. According to a tracker from Free Speech Coalition, Florida, Kansas, South Dakota, and West Virginia introduced similar laws, and laws in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Virginia are seemingly closest to passing. If passed, some of these laws could be enforced promptly, while some bills in states like Florida and Mississippi specify that they wouldn't take effect until July.

But not every state agrees that rushing to require age verification is the best solution. Today, a South Dakota committee voted to defer voting on its age verification bill until the last day of the legislative session. The bill's sponsor, Republican Jessica Castleberry, seemingly failed to persuade the committee of the urgency of passing the law, saying at the hearing that "this is not your daddy's Playboy. Extreme, degrading, and violent pornography is only one click away from our children." She told Ars that the bill was not passed because some state lawmakers were too "easily swayed by powerful lobbyists."

"It's a travesty that unfettered access to pornography by minors online will continue in South Dakota because of lobbyists protecting the interests of their clients, versus legislators who should be protecting our children," Castleberry told Ars. "The time to pass this bill was in the mid-1990s."

Lobbyists opposing the bill at the hearing represented telecommunications and newspaper associations. Although the South Dakota bill, like the Louisiana law, exempted news organizations, one lobbyist, Justin Smith, an attorney for the South Dakota Newspaper Association, argued that the law was too vague in how it defined harmful content and how it defined which commercial entities could be subjected to liabilities.

"We just have to be careful before we put things like this into law with all of these open-ended questions that put our South Dakota businesses at risk," Smith said at the hearing. "We would ask you to defeat the bill in its current form."

These laws work by requiring age verification of all users, imposing damages on commercial entities found to be neglecting required age verification and distributing content to minors online that has been deemed to be inappropriate. The laws target online destinations where more than a third of the content is considered harmful to minors. Opponents in South Dakota anticipated that states that pass these laws, as Louisiana has, will struggle to "regulate the entire Internet." In Arkansas, violating content includes "actual, simulated, or animated displays" of body parts like nipples or genitals, touching or fondling of such body parts, as well as sexual acts like "intercourse, masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, oral copulation, flagellation, excretory functions," or other sex acts deemed to have no "literary, artistic, political, or scientific value to minors."

When Louisiana's law took effect last month, Ars verified how major porn sites like Pornhub quickly complied. It seems likely that if new laws are passed in additional states, popular sites will be prepared to implement additional controls to block regional access to minors.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Thursday February 02 2023, @05:37PM   Printer-friendly
from the unintended-consequences dept.

TikTok's CEO agrees to testify before Congress for the first time in March:

As Congress prepares to vote on a nationwide TikTok ban next month, it looks like that ban may already be doomed to fail. The biggest hurdle likely won't be mustering enough votes, but drafting a ban that doesn't conflict with measures passed in the 1980s to protect the flow of ideas from hostile foreign nations during the Cold War.

These decades-old measures, known as the Berman amendments, were previously invoked by TikTok creators suing to block Donald Trump's attempted TikTok ban in 2020. Now, a spokesperson for Representative Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Ars that these measures are believed to be the biggest obstacle for lawmakers keen on blocking the app from operating in the United States.

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that lawmakers' dilemma in enacting a ban would be finding a way to block TikTok without "shutting down global exchanges of content—or inviting retaliation against US platforms and media." Some lawmakers think that's achievable by creating a narrow carve-out for TikTok in new legislation, but others, like McCaul, think a more permanent solution to protect national security interests long-term would require crafting more durable and thoughtful legislation that would allow for bans of TikTok and all apps beholden to hostile foreign countries.

[...] Back in 1977, Congress passed the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) to empower the president to impose sanctions on and oversee trade with hostile nations. The plan was to prevent average American citizens from assisting US enemies, but the law troubled publishers doing business with book authors and movie makers based in hostile nations. Those concerns led Congressman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) to propose an amendment in 1988, which passed, exempting "information and informational materials" from IEEPA and blocking presidents from regulating these materials.

As technology evolved, in 1994, another IEEPA amendment specifically exempted electronic media, leading to today, when everything from a tweet to a TikTok would be free from presidential regulation under the so-called Berman amendments. How this prevents Congress from passing a new law remains unclear, but the WSJ reports that lawmakers are hesitant to draft legislation limiting TikTok if that could threaten those protections.

Original Submission