Posts with «politics & government» label

President Biden signs CHIPS Act to boost semiconductor production

Following successful votes in the Senate and House of Representatives, President Joe Biden has signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law. The $280 billion measure will provide significant financial assistance to American semiconductor firms. It sets aside $52 billion in tax credits and funding for US chipmakers to expand domestic production. In a rare episode of bipartisan unity, the Senate voted 64-33 in favor of the bill. It was later passed by the House thanks to a 243-187 vote.

“America invented the semiconductor, but over the years we let manufacturing of semiconductors move overseas. As we saw during the pandemic, when the factories that make these chips shut down, the global economy came to a screeching halt, driving up costs for families” Biden said during the ceremony. “A third of the core inflation last year was due to the high price of automobiles, which was driven by the shortage of semiconductors. For the sake of our economy, jobs and national security, we have to make these semiconductors in America again.”

The CHIPS and Science Act is unlikely to affect domestic production immediately. It takes years to build new foundries and upgrade existing ones to increase output. When Intel recently broke ground on two new $20 billion facilities in Arizona, the company said it would take about three years to complete construction on those plants.

The signing comes shortly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a trip to Taiwan, despite warnings from China that there would be “resolute and strong measures” if she went ahead with visit. Before her arrival on the island, Taiwan’s presidential website went down to an apparent cyberattack. The self-governing island is home to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the most important chip foundry in the world. On its own, TSMC supplies the majority of all semiconductor parts used by US companies.

US sanctions cryptocurrency mixer that allegedly laundered over $7 billion

The US is ramping up its efforts to crack down on shady cryptocurrency mixers. The Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on Tornado Cash, a mixer that allegedly helped launder more than $7 billion in stolen crypto funds since its inception in 2019. Like a previous sanctions target, Blender, Tornado Cash is accused of "indiscriminately" helping thieves by hiding transaction details while failing to institute meaningful anti-laundering safeguards. North Korea's state-sponsored Lazarus Group hackers are believed to have funneled $455 million through the mixer.

The sanctions block transactions with or for the benefit of Tornado Cash-related individuals and entities, whether they're located in the US or controlled by Americans. Anyone who detects banned activity is required to inform the Treasury's Offices of Foreign Assets Control.

Tornado Cash runs on the Ethereum blockchain. Officials said the mixer played a role in other large-scale thefts, including the Harmony Bridge heist (where it laundered $96 million) from June and this month's Nomad attack (involving "at least" $7.8 million).

The government has taken legal action against crypto mixers for years. Federal law enforcement charged an Ohio man in 2020 for running a darknet mixer that helped criminals launder $300 million. The Treasury only started sanctioning mixers when it blocked Blender this May, however. The US now believes criminal-friendly mixers are a national security threat, and hopes efforts like these will curb both terrorism as well as attempts to dodge conventional sanctions.

Senate passes sweeping climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act

After more than a year of infighting, President Joe Biden’s climate agenda has cleared a significant hurdle. On Sunday, Senate Democrats passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 in a 51-50 decision that went along party lines and saw Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote, reports The Washington Post. If passed by the House, the 755-page bill would authorize the single largest expenditure to combat climate change in the nation’s history. In all, the legislation calls for $370 billion in spending to reduce US greenhouse emissions by approximately 40 percent by the end of this decade.

Among the climate change provisions most likely to affect consumers is a reworked federal EV tax credit. The Inflation Reduction Act would provide up to $7,500 in subsidies for electric SUVs, trucks and vans that cost less than $80,000 and cars under $55,000. It would also allow people to claim up to $4,000 when buying a used EV. In both cases, an income ceiling would prevent those who make more than the average American from taking advantage of the legislation.

On top of EV subsidies, the $370 billion in investments set aside by the bill would incentivize the building of wind, solar and other renewable power sources. The act also calls for the creation of a $1.5 billion program that would pay companies that reduce their methane output.

With Sunday’s vote, the Inflation Reduction Act now moves to the House, which will return from its summer recess on Friday. For much of 2021 and the first half of 2022, President Biden’s Build Back Better plan looked doomed to go nowhere due to opposition from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. In late July, however, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced they had come to a compromise. 

In exchange for his support, the Inflation Reduction Act includes a provision that would see the federal government reinstate canceled oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's Cook Inlet. While that concession upset environmentalists, it’s not expected to undo the good the Inflation Reduction Act is poised to do for the environment. According to one estimate by Princeton University’s Zero Lab, the bill could reduce US greenhouse emissions by about 6.3 billion tons through 2032.

San Diego joins other cities in restricting cops' use of surveillance technology

San Diego is joining the ranks of cities clamping down on surveillance technology. The San Diego Union-Tribunereports the City Council has given a final greenlight to an ordinance requiring approval for tech that can identify and track individuals, such as body and streetlight cameras. Municipal government workers will have to outline the intended uses of a surveillance system, while a new privacy advisory board and residents will be asked for input. Councillors will also conduct yearly reviews of in-use systems.

The city has a year-long grace period to both form the advisory board and give departments a chance to examine their surveillance tech inventories. Organizations that already use these systems will need authorization to continue use. An exception will allow police on federal task forces to use surveillance, however. San Diego Police Department Chief David Nisleit requested the carve-out over concerns that local officers couldn't participate in federal operations that bar disclosure of surveillance tech.

The council first approved the ordinance in November 2020. The late approval comes after multiple employee groups exercised their right to review the new rules. That process alone took about 18 months, The Union-Tribune said.

San Diego is relatively late to such regulations. San Francisco and other cities have banned facial recognition, for instance. Even so, its approval might increase pressure on other local governments to either restrict surveillance hardware or offer more transparency regarding their monitoring tools.

US Attorneys General will take legal action against telecom providers enabling robocalls

The Attorneys General of all 50 states have joined forces in hopes of giving teeth to the seemingly never-ending fight against robocalls. North Carolina AG Josh Stein, Indiana AG Todd Rokita and Ohio AG Dave Yost are leading the formation of the new Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force. In Stein's announcement, he said the group will focus on taking legal action against telecoms, particularly gateway providers, allowing or turning a blind eye to foreign robocalls made to US numbers.

He explained that gateway providers routing foreign phone calls into the US telephone network have the responsibility under the law to ensure the traffic they're bringing in is legal. Stein said that they mostly aren't taking any action to keep robocalls out of the US phone network, though, and they're even intentionally allowing robocall traffic through in return for steady revenue in many cases. 

Stein said in a statement:

"We're... going to take action against phone companies that violate state and federal laws. I’m proud to create this nationwide task force to hold companies accountable when they turn a blind eye to the robocallers they’re letting on to their networks so they can make more money. I’ve already brought one pathbreaking lawsuit against an out-of-state gateway provider, and I won’t hesitate to take legal action against others who break our laws and bombard North Carolinians with these harmful, unlawful calls."

The Attorney General referenced data from the National Consumer Law Center, which previously reported that American phone numbers get more than 33 million scam robocalls a day. Those include Social Security scams targeting seniors and gift card scams, wherein bad actors pretend they're from the IRS. In that report, the center warned that consumers will keep on getting robocalls as long as phone providers are earning from them. 

Stein already has experience sparring with shady gateway providers. Back in January, he sued Articul8 for routing more than 65 million calls to phone numbers in North Carolina and inundating residents with up to 200 fraudulent telemarketing calls every single day. He previously urged the FCC to implement measures designed to put a stop to illegal foreign calls made through providers like Articul8, as well. And in 2019, Stein became instrumental in the development of an agreement between the US Attorneys General and 12 carriers in the country to use the STIR/SHAKEN call-blocking technology.

New York regulators slap Robinhood's crypto business with $30 million fine

In the latest in what seems to be a string of challenges the company has to grapple with, Robinhood's crypto division has been slapped with a $30 million fine by the New York State Department of Financial Services. It's the first crypto-focused enforcement action by the regulator, which has issued the multimillion dollar penalty against Robinhood for what it says are violations against the state's anti-money laundering and cybersecurity regulations. In its announcement, the Financial Services Department said it found significant deficiencies in the company's compliance programs following a supervisory examination.

Apparently, there weren't enough people working in Robinhood's money laundering compliance program. The company also failed to transition from a manual monitoring system, which is no longer sufficient now that it's much larger than when it started. In addition, the department found that policies within Robinhood's cybersecurity program aren't in full compliance with official cybersecurity and virtual currency regulations. 

The New York regulator also mentioned that Robinhood improperly certified compliance with the Department's Transaction Monitoring Regulation and Cybersecurity Regulation. Since it wasn't fully compliant with the state's cybersecurity rules, Robinhood violated the law by claiming compliance. Finally, the regulator said Robinhood failed to adhere to consumer protection requirements by not maintaining a separate phone number (and displaying it on its website) specifically for consumer complaints. 

Superintendent of Financial Services, Adrienne A. Harris, said in a statement:

"As its business grew, Robinhood Crypto failed to invest the proper resources and attention to develop and maintain a culture of compliance—a failure that resulted in significant violations of the Department’s anti-money laundering and cybersecurity regulations. All virtual currency companies licensed in New York State are subject to the same anti-money laundering, consumer protection, and cybersecurity regulations as traditional financial services companies. DFS will continue to investigate and take action when any licensee violates the law or the Department’s regulations, which are critical to protecting consumers and ensuring the safety and soundness of the institutions."

Aside from having to pay $30 million, Robinhood must retain an independent consultant who will evaluate if it has taken the appropriate actions to address its violations and deficiencies under the settlement.

Robinhood also recently announced that it's laying off 23 percent of its workforce due to record inflation and the cryptocurrency crash. It's the company's second round of job cuts this year and will affect employees across divisions. That revelation came after Robinhood published its earnings for the second quarter of 2022, wherein it posted a net loss of $295 million and announced a decrease of 1.9 million in monthly active users. 

Taiwan's presidential website hit by cyberattack ahead of Nancy Pelosi's visit

As more than 300,000 people anxiously watched the flight path of SPAR19, the US Air Force plane carrying Nancy Pelosi on her tour of Asia, Taiwan’s presidential website went down to an apparent cyberattack, reports Reuters. In a Facebook post spotted by Gizmodo, Taiwanese presidential spokesperson Chang Tun-Han said a distributed denial-of-service attack took down the website early Tuesday evening.

According to Tun-Han, the attack originated outside of Taiwan and saw the website bombarded with more than 200 times the amount of traffic it normally sees. They claim the website was back to normal operation “within 20 minutes.” However, when Engadget went to visit, there was only a single line to be seen stating, “OK.”

Our delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy.

Our discussions with Taiwan leadership reaffirm our support for our partner & promote our shared interests, including advancing a free & open Indo-Pacific region.

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) August 2, 2022

Pelosi’s plane landed in Taiwan late Tuesday evening Taipei Standard Time, reports The Associated Press. According to local news outlets, she is expected to stay the night. As Speaker of the House, Pelosi is the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. Ahead of Tuesday’s visit, China warned there would be “resolute and strong measures” if Pelosi went ahead with the trip.

“There is but one China in the world, Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory, and the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday. “The one-China principle is a universal consensus of the international community and a basic norm in international relations.”

The US maintains a so-called policy of “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to Taiwan. In 1972, former President Richard Nixon visited mainland China. During Nixon’s visit, the US agreed “that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China.” China views visits by foreign government officials to Taiwan as recognition of its sovereignty – though members of Congress have routinely traveled to the self-governing island over the years.

“America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy,” Pelosi said on Twitter. “Our visit is one of several Congressional delegations to Taiwan – and it in no way contradicts longstanding United States policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, US-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances.”

Report: The US organ transplant network is failing desperate patients

The US network that matches donated kidneys, livers and hearts with desperate patients has serious issues and "needs to be vastly restructured," according to a government review seen by The Washington Post. It reportedly relies on out-of-date technology, has crashed for hours at a time and has never been audited by federal for security or other flaws by federal officials.  

The current system has been administered by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) for 36 years. That non-profit is overseen by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Around 106,000 people are on a waiting list for organs, with most seeking kidneys. Over 41,000 organs were transplanted last year, setting a record, but 22 people die each day waiting, according to the article. 

In its review completed 18 months ago, the White House's US Digital Service recommended that the government "break up the current monopoly" held by UNOS. "In order to properly and equitably support the critical needs of these patients, the ecosystem needs to be vastly restructured." A big sticking point is that the government has never been allowed to inspect the computer code behind the system, because UNOS hasn't allowed it. "The code is extremely large," said UNOS chief executive Brian Shepherd. "They can come in and ask for specific pieces."

The Washington Post obtained the review in draft form as it has yet to be finalized. Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee who saw the report reportedly warned DHS officials that they had "no confidence" in the security of the network, asking the White House to step in to protect it from attacks. "We request you take immediate steps to secure the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network system from cyber-attacks," wrote committee chair Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Charles E. Grassley. 

The other main issue is the requirement for manual input that can lead to mistakes or create timing issues for organ matches. "When nearly 100 percent of hospitals use electronic records, the notion that we rely on human beings to enter data into databases is crazy. It should be 85 to 95 percent automatic," a former chair of the UNOS liver transplant policy committee told The Post.

The transplant results are the most disconcerting part of the report. In the US in 2020, 21.3 percent of donated kidneys weren't transplanted, according to a report. That compares to 9.1 percent in France, 10 to 12 percent in the UK and eight percent in the Eurotransplant consortium of eight EU countries including Germany. "You would be hard pressed to think you couldn’t at least get 5 percent better [in the US], which would be thousands of transplants," a former HHS official told The Post. For more, check out the article here

Nearly 600 more TV writers call for Netflix, Apple to detail abortion safety policies

Last week, more than 400 TV showrunners, writers and producers called on streaming giants and traditional Hollywood studios to offer improved protections for workers in states where abortions are banned or limited. Now, 594 other industry figures (many, if not all of whom are male) have pledged their support, as Variety reports. They include Jordan Peele, Taika Waititi, Jason Sudekis, Ryan Murphy, Donald Glover and JJ Abrams.

The signatories said they were standing in solidarity with their “female, trans and non-binary showrunner colleagues [...] in demanding a coordinated and timely response from our employers regarding the imminent workplace-safety crisis created by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Abortion access doesn’t only affect people who can become pregnant. It affects us all."

In late June, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a ruling that conferred a nationwide right to abortion for almost half a century. Numerous states banned or severely restricted abortion access after the decision.

The initial letter was signed by the likes of Issa Rae, Lilly Wachowski, Lena Waithe, Amy Schumer, Shonda Rhimes, Mindy Kaling and Ava DuVernay. It was sent to Disney, Netflix, Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount, Apple, NBC Universal, Amazon, Lionsgate and AMC.

The more than 1,000 industry figures who sent the letters are calling for details about studios' abortion travel subsidies, care policies for “ectopic pregnancies and other pregnancy complications” that occur during a production and legal safeguards for those who help a production worker get an abortion. The signatories also demanded that studios “discontinue all political donations to anti-abortion candidates and political action committees immediately.”

Those who signed the letters want the studios to respond by August 10th. The letters did not detail what may happen if the companies don't reply by then. Studios have previously said they would reimburse travel expenses for those who had to leave a state to get an abortion.

Thanks to its generous tax incentives for film and TV productions, Georgia has become a powerhouse in the entertainment industry, which is worth billions of dollars to the local economy. In 2019, several studios, including Netflix, said they'd reconsider setting up projects in the state if a so-called heartbeat law came into effect (the legislation bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected). A federal appeals court allowed the law to take effect last month.

Indonesia blocks Steam, PayPal and other services over missed regulatory deadline

Indonesia is blocking residents from accessing various online platforms after those services failed to comply with a July 29th regulatory deadline, reports Reuters (via The Verge). Among the affected platforms are PayPal, Steam and Yahoo (owned by Engadget’s parent company Apollo Management).

Under the country’s 2020 MR5 law, companies labeled as “Private Electronic System Providers” had until this week to register with a government database or face an outright ban. Similar to India’s restrictive 2021 IT law, MR5 gives Indonesia the power to force online platforms to take down content the government deems unlawful or a threat to public order. In instances involving “urgent” requests, services have four hours to take action.

According to Reuters, a handful of tech companies, including Google, Meta and Amazon, rushed in recent days to meet Friday’s deadline. Indonesia may restore access to some of the online services that are currently blocked in the country, provided they register with the government.

PayPal and Valve did not immediately respond to Engadget’s request for comment. Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan, the general director of Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information, told a local news network that the government could temporarily lift restrictions on PayPal to allow users to withdraw their money.

Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch have criticized Indonesia’s new content moderation rules. “[MR5] is a tool for censorship that imposes unrealistic burdens on the many digital services and platforms that are used in Indonesia,” said Linda Lakhdhir, Asia legal advisor at Human Rights Watch. “It poses serious risks to the privacy, freedom of speech, and access to information of Indonesian internet users.”

Many Indonesians have also come out against the law, using hashtags like “BlokirKominfo” to voice their opposition to the government’s actions. On Saturday, Pangerapan dismissed those criticisms, saying the measure would help protect the country's internet users.