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Trump Administration Sued Over Social Media Screening for Visa Applicants

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Visa applicants must disclose their social media user names, a rule that grew out of Trump’s vow of “extreme vetting” of foreign visitors. A new lawsuit objects.

Visa applicants from abroad have been compelled to disclose to American consular officials all social-media handles or user names they have used on major platforms, 12 of which are based in the United States.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — A pair of documentary film organizations sued the Trump administration on Thursday over its requirement that foreigners disclose their social media accounts — including pseudonymous ones — when they apply for visas.

The lawsuit, which raises novel issues about privacy and surveillance in the social-media era, challenged a rule the State Department put into effect this year. The requirement grew out of President Trump’s campaign promise of “extreme vetting” and his early executive orders that barred travel into the United States from several Muslim-majority nations.

In particular, the lawsuit argues, forcing people from authoritarian countries to disclose the pseudonyms they use to discuss politically sensitive matters could endanger them by creating a risk that the information gets back to their own governments. As a result, it said, they will be less likely either to express themselves on social media or to apply for visas.

“Many people use pseudonyms on social media so that they can speak anonymously about sensitive or controversial issues, and so that they can shield themselves or their families or associates from possible reprisals by state or private actors,” the plaintiffs wrote. “The registration requirement effectively conditions their eligibility for U.S. visas on their readiness to surrender their online anonymity.”

The Trump administration announced the rule in 2018 and started enforcing it this year. The State Department changed its visa application forms to require applicants to disclose all identifiers they have used on any of 20 social media platforms for the past five years, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The rule covers about 14.7 million people who apply for a visa each year.

The complaint, filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, challenged both the State Department, which administers visa applications, and the Department of Homeland Security, which it says uses visa application data for other purposes, including administering immigration law.

The Trump administration did not immediately comment on the lawsuit. But in a pair of postings, Twitter expressed opposition to the State Department rule, saying it chilled free speech.

The complaint maintains that administration officials improperly developed the rule — arguing that they failed to point to evidence that it would be effective and necessary — and that it violates the Constitution by chilling rights of free speech and association.

Visa applicants “must consider the risk that a U.S. official will misinterpret their speech on social media, impute others’ speech to them, or subject them to additional scrutiny or delayed processing because of the views they or their contacts have expressed,” the lawsuit said.

Demanding the data also creates the risk that authoritarian and other rights-abusing governments, “including some U.S. allies,” may use it to unmask anonymous dissidents, it said.

“Those who use pseudonymous identifiers must take into account that they will have to relinquish their online anonymity to U.S. officials when they submit their visa applications, and they must also consider the risk that U.S. officials will disclose their social media identifiers to foreign governments, reveal the identifiers inadvertently, or fail to protect the identifiers from third parties who might access them unlawfully.”

The lawsuit was jointly developed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. They are representing the two documentary film organizations — Doc Society, based in Brooklyn, and the International Documentary Association, based in Los Angeles — that host conferences and workshops that bring foreign filmmakers and social activists to American soil.

While most of the people affected by the new rule are foreigners abroad, who generally do not have constitutional rights, the lawsuit noted that the requirement also covers people with substantial ties to the United States, including people already residing on domestic soil — like foreign students and foreigners with work permits — who renew their visas while abroad.

Since the change took effect, visa applicants from abroad have been compelled to disclose to American consular officials all social-media handles or user names they have used on major platforms, 12 of which are based in the United States: Facebook, Flickr, Google , Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and YouTube.

The forms also ask about a Russian service, VK; a Belgian one, Twoo; a Latvian one, Ask.fm; and five Chinese sites: Douban, QQ, Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo and Youku.

The forms do not require applicants to turn over their passwords to see nonpublic information. But the complaint stresses the risk created by forcing people to turn over pseudonymous accounts, citing partners of the plaintiffs who have used them to “conduct sensitive research for a film about Nazis online, including joining discussion groups and contacting members of known Nazis’ families” and a member from Syria who “uses pseudonymous accounts as a safety measure against political persecution.”

The lawsuit said some partners and members of the plaintiffs are now self-censoring, including deleting old posts that criticized the Trump administration’s policies. Others “are no longer applying for U.S. visas — and are forgoing personal, educational, and professional opportunities” because they fear the consequences of disclosing their social media accounts.

“The government simply has no legitimate interest in collecting this kind of sensitive information on this immense scale, and the First Amendment doesn’t permit it to do so,” said Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight Institute.

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NEWS

Millions of Social Media Users in India Set to Lose Their Anonymity

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Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok will have to reveal users’ identities if Indian government agencies ask them to, according to the country’s controversial new rules for social media companies and messaging apps expected to be published later this month. The requirement comes as governments around the world are trying to hold social media companies more accountable for the content that circulates on their platforms, whether it’s fake news, child porn, racist invective or terrorism-related content. India’s new guidelines go further than most other countries’ by requiring blanket cooperation with government inquiries, no warrant or judicial order required.

India proposed these guidelines in December 2018 and asked for public comment. The Internet and Mobile Association of India, a trade group that counts Facebook, Amazon.com, and Alphabet’s Google among its members, responded that the requirements “would be a violation of the right to privacy recognized by the Supreme Court.”

But the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is expected to publish the new rules later this month without major changes, according to a government official familiar with the matter.

“The guidelines for intermediaries are under process,” said N.N. Kaul, the media adviser to the minister of electronics & information technology. “We cannot comment on the guidelines or changes till they are published.”

The provisions in the earlier draft had required platforms such as Google’s YouTube or ByteDance’s TikTok, Facebook or its Instagram and WhatsApp apps, to help the government trace the origins of a post within 72 hours of a request. The companies would also have to preserve their records for at least 180 days to aid government investigators, establish a brick-and-mortar operation within India and appoint both a grievance officer to deal with user complaints and a government liaison. The Ministry is still finalising the language and content.

The rules cover all social media and messaging apps with more than 5 million users. India, with 1.3 billion people, has about 500 million Internet users. It isn’t clear whether the identities of foreign users would be subject to the Indian government’s inquiries.

Law enforcement agencies around the world have been frustrated by tech companies that have refused to identify users, unlock devices or generally cooperate with government investigations, particularly in cases relating to terrorism.

In India, where the Internet — and fake news — are still relatively new phenomenon, a false report of rampant child abduction and organ harvesting circulated widely via WhatsApp, leading to mob violence and over three dozen fatal lynchings in 2017 and 2018.

WhatsApp refused a request from the government to reveal the origins of the rumours, citing its promise of privacy and end-to-end encryption for its 400 million Indian users. It instead offered to fund research into preventing the spread of fake news and mounted a public education campaign in the country, its biggest global market.

WhatsApp will “not compromise on security because that would make people less safe,” it said in a statement Wednesday, adding its global user base had reached over 2 billion. “For even more protection, we work with top security experts, employ industry leading technology to stop misuse as well as provide controls and ways to report issues — without sacrificing privacy.”

At the same time, tech companies and civil rights groups say the new rules are an invitation to abuse and censorship, as well as a burdensome requirement on new and growing companies.

In an open letter to IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, executives from Mozilla, GitHub, and Cloudflare said the guidelines could lead to “automated censorship” and “increase surveillance.“ In order to be able to trace the originator of content, platforms would basically be required to surveil their users, undermine encryption, and harm the fundamental right to privacy of Indian users, they said.

Companies such as Mozilla or Wikipedia wouldn’t fall under the new rules, the government official said. Browsers, operating systems, and online repositories of knowledge, software development platforms, are all exempt. Only social media platforms and messaging apps will be covered.

© 2020 Bloomberg LP

NDTV Gadgets360.com

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FACEBOOK

Facebook, Instagram and YouTube: Government forcing companies to protect you online

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Although many of the details have still to be confirmed, it’s likely the new rules will apply to Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Snapchat, and Instagram

We often talk about the risks you might find online and whether social media companies need to do more to make sure you don’t come across inappropriate content.

Well, now media regulator Ofcom is getting new powers, to make sure companies protect both adults and children from harmful content online.

The media regulator makes sure everyone in media, including the BBC, is keeping to the rules.

Harmful content refers to things like violence, terrorism, cyber-bullying and child abuse.

The new rules will likely apply to Facebook – who also own Instagram and WhatsApp – Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok, and will include things like comments, forums and video-sharing.

Platforms will need to ensure that illegal content is removed quickly, and may also have to “minimise the risks” of it appearing at all.

These plans have been talked about for a while now.

The idea of new rules to tackle ‘online harms’ was originally set out by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in May 2018.

The government has now decided to give Ofcom these new powers following research called the ‘Online Harms consultation’, carried out in the UK in 2019.

Plans allowing Ofcom to take control of social media were first spoken of in August last year.

The government will officially announce these new powers for Ofcom on Wednesday 12 February.

But we won’t know right away exactly what new rules will be introduced, or what will happen to tech or social media companies who break the new rules.

Children’s charity the NSPCC has welcomed the news. It says trusting companies to keep children safe online has failed.

“Too many times social media companies have said: ‘We don’t like the idea of children being abused on our sites, we’ll do something, leave it to us,'” said chief executive Peter Wanless.

“Thirteen self-regulatory attempts to keep children safe online have failed.

To enjoy the CBBC Newsround website at its best you will need to have JavaScript turned on.

Back in Feb 2018 YouTube said they were “very sorry” after Newsround found several videos not suitable for children on the YouTube Kids app

The UK government’s Digital Secretary, Baroness Nicky Morgan said: “There are many platforms who ideally would not have wanted regulation, but I think that’s changing.”

“I think they understand now that actually regulation is coming.”

In many countries, social media platforms are allowed to regulate themselves, as long as they stick to local laws on illegal material.

But some, including Germany and Australia, have introduced strict rules to force social media platforms do more to protect users online.

In Australia, social media companies have to pay big fines and bosses can even be sent to prison if they break the rules.

For more information and tips about staying safe online, go to BBC Own It, and find out how to make the internet a better place for all of us.

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FACEBOOK

Google Surpasses Facebook in Downloads for First Time in 5 Years in Q4 2019: Sensor Tower

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US-based search engine giant Google has, for the first time in five years, unseated Facebook as the top publisher of mobile apps in Q4 2019.

In the last quarter of 2019, Google amassed close to 850 million downloads compared to Facebook‘s nearly 800 million, analytics firm Sensor Tower revealed recently.

When it comes to overall downloads for the year, however, Google still trails behind Facebook.

While Google raked in nearly 2.3 billion downloads, Facebook gained almost 3 billion downloads over the past 12 months.

Facebook owns four out of the top five most downloaded apps worldwide, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, that does not come as a surprise.

sensor tower body Call of Duty

Call of Duty: Mobile was the most downloaded game last quarter, followed by Sand Balls
Photo Credit: Sensor Tower

ByteDance-owned video sharing app TikTok was the world’s second-most downloaded app in 2019.

The figures show that TikTok downloads reached an all-time high in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2019, with nearly 220 million installs, which represented a 24 per cent increase over Q3 2019.

Sensor Tower also reports that TikTok’s revenue grew by a massive 540 per cent year-on-year in Q4 2019.

Additionally, Disney+ was downloaded more than 30 million times in Q4 2019 in the US, which is more than double of its next nearest competitor, TikTok.

In terms of revenue, Disney+ grossed more than $50 million in its first 30 days, beating out other subscription video on demand (SVOD) rivals, like HBO NOW and Showtime.

NDTV Gadgets360.com

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