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USPS Uses Facial Recognition and Other High-Tech Tools To Monitor Social Media

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USPS Uses Facial Recognition and Other High-Tech Tools To Monitor Social Media

Is every federal agency a surveillance unit now? With a plethora of law enforcement and intelligence agencies deputized to monitor American communications, it seems insane to think that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) would also be enlisted for this task. But indeed it has been, as Yahoo News revealed earlier this year. Now, new details have emerged about the postal service’s Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP), including the fact that the agency has been using facial recognition software from Clearview AI and has a specific program to monitor people posting about protests.

As part of the iCOP program, postal service employees have been monitoring Americans’ social media posts and sharing things they deem suspicious with law enforcement agencies. “Yet the program is much broader in scope than previously known and includes analysts who assume fake identities online, use sophisticated intelligence tools and employ facial recognition software,” writes Yahoo News‘ Jana Winter:

Among the tools used by the analysts is Clearview AI, a facial recognition software that scrapes images off public websites, a practice that has raised the ire of privacy advocates. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service uses Clearview’s facial recognition database of over 3 billion images from arrest photos collected from across social media “to help identify unknown targets in an investigation or locate additional social media accounts for known individuals,” according to materials reviewed by Yahoo News.

Other tools employed by the Inspection Service include Zignal Labs’ software, which it uses to run keyword searches on social media event pages to identify potential threats from upcoming scheduled protests, according to Inspection Service documents. It also uses Nfusion, another software program, to create and maintain anonymous, untraceable email and social media accounts.

USPS has defended its practices by saying that it’s simply part of keeping postal workers safe. But the agency’s internal communications raise doubts:

The iCOP intelligence bulletin obtained and published by Yahoo News targeted protests planned by largely right-wing groups and discussed on Facebook, Twitter and Parler.

iCOP found no credible threats, but compiled what it described as “inflammatory” posts.

The iCOP program has also monitored protests associated with Black Lives Matter and racial justice, according to Yahoo News.

“Why has the USPS been using anything other than intelligence from the Department of Justice for monitoring events which may pose risks to normal mail delivery? Why were these resources used to monitor First Amendment-protected protest rallies like those in the wake of George Floyd’s death last year?” asks Rayne at national security and civil liberties blog emptywheel.

Postal service surveillance reports are uploaded to a portal run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and shared with task forces, surveillance centers, law enforcement units, and government agencies across the country—including the National Security Agency—as well as stored for future access.

“The retention and dissemination of these reports could allow federal agencies to receive information they are not allowed by statute to collect themselves,” Winter suggests.

Whether the USPS is actually authorized to undertake such surveillance and reporting is not clear, let alone whether it is doing so in ways respectful of free speech and due process rights.

Some members of Congress have been skeptical of the Postal Service’s iCOP program.

“I do not doubt that @USPS has some legitimate law enforcement responsibilities (theft, fraud, etc) but shoehorning in a massive social media surveillance operation using AI facial recognition software under the guise of a loosely-defined homeland security mission is just insane,” tweeted Rep. Peter Meijer (R–Mich.) yesterday.

Like all Americans, I am skeptical when any government agency pries into our personal and private lives under the guise of rooting out ‘threats.’ But for such an invasion of privacy to be carried out by the Post Office, of all agencies, is a major concern,” wrote Rep. Nancy Mace (R–S.C.) in an April op-ed.

On April 30, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–Fla.) introduced a bill “to prohibit funds from being used to implement the Internet Covert Operations Program under the United States Postal Inspection Service.” It has attracted nine co-sponsors so far—all Republicans.

Congressional Democrats have been largely silent about the issue.

FREE MINDS

Three things that aren’t as bad as they seem. In an interview with Reason, Scott Winship of the American Enterprise Institute casts doubt on conventional wisdom about fertility rates, income inequality, and economic mobility. Americans “have always been suckers for declension narratives—the idea that the Golden Age ended sometime in the past and we have the bad luck to live in a world that is uniquely awful, unfair, and corrupt,” notes Reason‘s Nick Gillespie:

Three of today’s most widespread declension narratives involve fertility rates, income inequality, and economic mobility. We have fewer children than ever, goes the popular story, because nobody—even the wealthy!—can afford them anymore. The spread between rich and poor has never been bigger and it’s only increasing. Kids today will be the first generation in America to have a lower standard of living than their parents.

But according to Winship, these narratives are misleading to just plain false. Listen to his interview with Gillespie here.

FREE MARKETS

Tennessee bans certain sorts of health care for transgender teens. “The move makes Tennessee just the second state in the United States to enact such a ban after Arkansas approved a similar version earlier this year over a veto from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson,” says ABC News. The new Tennessee law would ban doctors from providing hormone treatments or puberty blockers to anyone under age 18, in addition to prohibiting minors from receiving sex reassignment surgeries.

QUICK HITS

• Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law an anti-abortion measure that makes abortion illegal about two weeks after a woman first misses her period due to pregnancy and lets anyone who thinks the rules have been breached sue abortion providers plus those suspected of abetting them.

• A new coronavirus that transmits from animals to humans has been found in some Malaysian patients. “The patients had what looked like regular pneumonia,” reports NPR. “But in eight out of 301 samples tested, or 2.7%, Xui and Gray found that the patients’ upper respiratory tracts were infected with a new canine coronavirus — a dog virus.”

• Utah will ban schools from requiring that students wear masks.

• “Arrest warrants have been issued for two former Colorado police officers in connection with the violent arrest last year of a 73-year-old woman with dementia,” reports CNN.

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Texas Cracks Down on Big Tech Censorship with New Bill, Russia Files Lawsuit Against Google, Facebook – Bringing you Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

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Texas Cracks Down on Big Tech Censorship with New Bill, Russia Files Lawsuit Against Google, Facebook - Bringing you Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

The governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, plans to sign into law a bill that will prevent social media platforms from censoring the state’s citizens’ posts. After declaring that censorship won’t be tolerated in the Lone Star State, the governor warned that the First Amendment is under attack from social media companies.

The bill, SB 12, is authored by Republican Senator Bryan Hughes and will empower Texans who are wrongfully restricted or de-platformed to file a lawsuit and help them get back on the platform. The Texas Attorney General will hold the right to bring a claim on behalf of an individual. 

If the social media platform fails to comply, the court can impose daily penalties. Governor Abbott noted that these online sites had become today’s public squares where information must be allowed to flow freely. However, the present-day scenario is such that big tech often acts as the jury, determining whose viewpoints are valid and what perspectives can be discussed.

“America was built on freedom of speech and healthy public debate, and efforts to silence conservative viewpoints on social media are wrong and weaken public discourse. I thank Senator Hughes for offering SB 12 to help protect Texans from being wrongfully censored on social media for voicing their political or religious viewpoints. With SB 12, Senator Hughes is taking a stand against Big Tech’s political censorship and protecting Texans’ right to freedom of expression,” Abbott said in a statement.

Hughes expressed great concern at American citizens getting censored on social media for not conforming to a narrow worldview approved by leftist ideologies. He argues that phone companies and cable companies cannot cut people off because of differing political or religious viewpoints. 

Since social media platforms are common carriers, they must not be allowed to discriminate in a manner that violates the First Amendment. 

Industry association TechNet said that lifting content restrictions could result in kids getting exposed to harmful information online. However, Hughes dismissed such concerns, stating that the legislation will only apply to political and religious speech and not any “lewd, lascivious” activity. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has called the bill one of his 31 priorities for the current legislative session. Abbott hopes to sign SB 12 into law by September 1.

Russian lawsuit

The Russian government is also getting on board in the fight against big tech, but for a different reason. Moscow has filed lawsuits against Google, Twitter, and Facebook for failing to comply with the government’s censorship requests, which demanded the deletion of posts asking youngsters to join in the protests held against Alexei Navalny’s detainment, the opposition leader.

The lawsuit was filed by the Russian Internet regulatory agency Roskomnadzor. Each platform has three charges against them, with each violation potentially resulting in a fine of up to 4 million roubles (approx. $54,000). 

The lawsuits will be heard on April 2. According to Roskomnadzor, legal actions are pending against other foreign social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Telegram. 

Facebook had recently blocked numerous accounts for spreading disinformation against Navalny supporters, angering Roskomnadzor, which demanded a full explanation for the sudden move. The company stated that the disinformation campaign aimed to generate large volumes of false posts in a bid to muffle the posts made by Navalny sympathizers. 

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Facebook to become first major tech company to bring Seattle workers back to offices

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Facebook to become first major tech company to bring Seattle workers back to offices

Facebook announced Tuesday that it plans to bring its Seattle employees back to its offices at 10% capacity.

Amazon hosts pop-up vaccine clinic in Seattle

This makes the social media giant the first large tech company in the Puget Sound region to begin bringing its workers back in person. In total, Facebook employs over 5,400 people in the region, the fifth most among major tech companies behind Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile, and Google respectively.

In a statement to the Puget Sound Business Journal, Facebook spokesman Tracy Clayton indicated that “offices in Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond are on the verge of opening again at a scale not seen since the COVID pandemic began more than a year ago,” but did not offer a timeline for when exactly that might occur.

The 10% of workers Facebook plans to bring back will be prioritized based on those who have been facing struggling most to be productive with the work-from-home model, the company told the Journal.

Officially, the company still plans to continue offering the option to voluntarily work at home until July 2 worldwide.

“We are encouraging everyone who can do their work remotely to continue working from home,” Clayton said.

Report: Amazon now has more employees than Boeing in WA

In the meantime, Facebook says it will continue monitoring local COVID-19 trends, as well as testing and vaccine access to assess its plans for the future.

Other tech companies in the Puget Sound region have continued to maintain their own remote work policies, including Amazon, where the option to work full time from home remains in place at least through June 2021. Microsoft took that a step further last October, indicating that it plans to enact flexible work schedules that would incorporate remote work options permanently.

Meanwhile, state leaders continue to encourage schools to begin phasing out their own remote models, pushing for students to at least begin returning to classrooms in a hybrid model. That’s based on emergent data indicating that students are less likely to significantly contribute to the spread of COVID-19, and continued increases in vaccine distribution statewide.

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Chandler ranks among the best cities for women in tech | AZ Big Media

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Chandler ranks among the best cities for women in tech | AZ Big Media

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that computer and information technology jobs are expected to have grown by 11% from 2019 to 2029, adding 531,200 new jobs in cloud computing, big data storage and collection and information security. The median annual wage for those jobs in May 2019 was $88,240, which is $48,430 higher than the median annual wage for all occupations.

But while tech jobs continue to outpace other occupations nationwide, women still face gender discrimination in the workplace. The BLS says that full-time women workers in all occupations earned $202 less per week than their male counterparts in the third quarter of 2020. This not only makes it harder for women to advance in their careers, but it also adversely affects their ability to save for retirement and cover many day-to-day expenses like food or housing. The employment landscape, however, continues to change. With that in mind, SmartAsset analyzed data to identify the best cities for women tech workers.

READ ALSO: 25 tech startups to watch in Metro Phoenix

We compared 63 U.S. cities for which full data was available and ranked them according to the following metrics: gender pay gap in the tech industry, income after housing, women as a percentage of tech workers and three-year growth in tech employment. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s seventh annual study on the best cities for women in tech. Check out the 2020 version here.

Key Findings

• Tech opportunities are moving outside of California. Silicon Valley is widely considered the premiere tech hub of America. However, our 2021 study shows that only two California cities rank in the top 15, and neither of those are located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Women can seize tech opportunities in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Colorado, Texas, Ohio, New Mexico, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia and Washington D.C.

• Women in tech still face a relatively large pay gap. While tech is often considered a progressive industry, our study shows that women on average make 83 cents for every dollar that is earned by their male counterparts. The city with the worst pay gap is Salt Lake City, Utah where women make only 68% of what men get. By contrast, Long Beach, California is the only city in the study where women earn slightly more than men – making $1.01 for every dollar that their male tech peers get.

1. Arlington, VA

Arlington, Virginia is an “inside-the-beltway” suburb of Washington, D.C., and women make up 33.5% of their tech workforce, the sixth-largest on our list. Women tech workers in Arlington also have the eighth-largest income after housing, earning $64,620. Women in this city face the 12th-lowest pay gap in tech, earning 91 cents for every dollar that men make.

2. Washington, DC

Located just across the Potomac River from Arlington, the nation’s capital has a tech industry that is made up of 38.9% women workers, the second-largest percentage for this metric in our study. Women in Washington D.C. get 90 cents for every dollar that their male co-workers make, the 16th-lowest pay gap overall. Furthermore, they have the 12th-highest income, earning $61,083 after housing.

3. Baltimore, MD

Women in tech in Baltimore, Maryland face the second-smallest pay gap in the study, earning almost on par with their male counterparts – at 99 cents for every dollar that men make. The tech workforce in Baltimore is made up of 29.9% women, the 10th-largest overall, and they have the ninth-highest income – $63,203 after housing is deducted. Note, however, that the tech industry has grown only 15% in the three-year period from 2016 to 2019, placing Baltimore in the bottom half of the study for this metric.

4. Durham, NC

Durham, North Carolina is the home of Duke University and part of the famed Research Triangle. Tech women in Durham earn 91 cents for every dollar that their male co-workers make, the 11th-smallest pay gap in our study. The Durham tech industry has grown 30% in the three-year period from 2016 to 2019, the 12th-biggest increase overall for this metric. Women make up 28.6% of the city’s tech workforce, the 14th-largest in the study.

5. Chesapeake, VA

Chesapeake is located in southern Virginia. Women make up 37.4% of its tech workforce – the fourth-largest in our study. Women in this city make 91 cents for every dollar that their male tech peers get and have an income of $54,371 after housing. The Chesapeake tech industry has seen a 23% growth in the recent three-year period from 2016 to 2019.

6. Aurora, CO

Tech women in Aurora, Colorado get 97 cents for every dollar that men make, the third-smallest pay gap in our study. The tech industry in Aurora has grown 25% in three years, the 21st-biggest increase on our list. And women tech workers in this city earn $57,853 after housing, the 19th-biggest income across all 63 cities in the study.

7. Houston, TX

Women tech workers in Houston, Texas make 94 cents for every dollar that their male co-workers earn, the sixth-smallest pay gap in our study. The city’s tech workforce is made up of 27.2% women and has seen a 17% employment growth from 2016 to 2019. Women tech workers in Houston have an income of $61,016 after housing, the 13th-highest overall.

8. Cincinnati, OH

Cincinnati, Ohio has the fourth-smallest gender pay gap in tech – our study shows that women earn 95 cents for every dollar that men get. Women in the Queen City make up 30.7% of the tech workforce, the seventh-largest for this metric overall. Their income after housing – at $48,886 – ranks in the bottom half of the study. But the industry itself has seen a 21% growth in employment the three-year period from 2016 to 2019.

9. Albuquerque, NM

Tech women in Albuquerque, New Mexico make about 95 cents for every dollar that their male co-workers earn, the fifth-smallest gender pay gap in our study. While women make up 30.6% of the city’s tech workforce, the eighth-largest in the study, Albuquerque’s tech industry has experienced relatively slow growth. It has seen only 13% growth from 2016 to 2019.

10. Jacksonville, FL

Women in Jacksonville, Florida make up 29.4% of the tech workforce, the 11th-largest in our study. For every dollar that men make, these Florida tech women earn 93 cents – the ninth-smallest gender pay gap overall. Jacksonville, however, finishes in the bottom half of this study with a slower tech industry growth of 17% from 2016 to 2019.

11. Long Beach, CA

Long Beach, California is the only city in the entire study where women in tech make more money than men. They reversed the gender pay gap by earning $1.01 for every dollar that men earn. The tech industry in this California city has seen steady three-year growth, ranking 14th out of 63 with a 27% increase from 2016 to 2019. Long Beach women make up 25.4% of the city’s tech workforce and have an income of $55,640 after housing.

12. Sacramento, CA

Sacramento, California may not stand out as an obvious destination for tech workers, but women make up 37.8% of its tech workforce, the third-largest in our study. That said, pay equity isn’t as high, as women in the industry earn only 88 cents for every dollar that men make. The Sacramento tech workforce has grown 32% in the three years from 2016 to 2019, the ninth-highest increase across all 63 cities in the study. Women tech workers in the city have an income of $46,289 after housing.

13. Philadelphia, PA

Women in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania make up 28.5% of the city’s tech workforce, the 15th-largest rate for this metric in the study. Their income is $52,530 after housing, and they have the 13th-smallest pay gap overall, earning 91 cents for every dollar that their male peers make. The city’s tech workforce has seen a 23% increase in the three-year period from 2016 to 2019, ranking towards the middle of the study for this metric.

14. Chandler, AZ

While women in Chandler, Arizona make up 28.1% of the city’s tech workforce – the 18th-largest in the study – they rank towards the middle of the study for gender pay gap, earning 85 cents for every dollar that men make. Chandler’s tech industry has seen a 23% growth from 2016 to 2019. Women in the city have an income of $60,269 after housing.

15. Atlanta, GA

Atlanta, Georgia rounds out the final place in our top 15. Tech employment has grown 33% over the three-year period from 2016 to 2019, the eighth-fastest in our study. Women in Atlanta tech earn 88 cents for every dollar that men make, placing it in about the top third of the study for that metric. Women in Atlanta make up 27.1% of the tech workforce and have an income of $52,594 after housing.

This content was originally published here.

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