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Thomson Reuters faces pressure over ICE contracts



A group of Thomson Reuters shareholders says the company’s technology databases are being used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to “track and arrest immigrants on a massive scale,” potentially causing reputational damage to the company.

“Companies are facing scrutiny for contracting with government agencies carrying out the Trump administration’s inhumane family separation and indefinite family detention policies at the US-Mexico border,” states the resolution from the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) General Fund and its Defence Fund, both of which are in British Columbia, Canada (Thomson Reuters is based in Toronto). “The UN considers such separation and detention illegal under international law and has stated the practice constitutes ‘arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.’”

According to the resolution, ICE has more than $60 million in contracts with Thomson Reuters, and the agency relies on its CLEAR software in its efforts to track undocumented immigrants. CLEAR consolidates public records across numerous databases, such as motor vehicle and arrest records, utilities, health care provider information, cellphone records, and license plate recognition, the proposal states.

“Shareholder engagement and capital stewardship are equally important for the BCGEU—we invest and manage our members’ dues responsibly in order to grow our union and we aggressively leverage our investments to demand action from companies on the issues that matter to our members and all working people,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith wrote in an email to The Verge. “The bottom line for us is that an ethical, activist approach to investing provides superior results over the long-term from a financial and a social justice perspective.”

Latinx grassroots organization Mijente, which has worked to push tech companies not to work with ICE, says in a blog post that Thomson Reuters “is not [just] a passive data broker that sells personal data to ICE,” but also helps the Department of Homeland Security division target people “with both automated analysis and in-house human analysts.”

Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente said in an interview with The Verge that the role of data brokers like CLEAR in the surveillance of immigrants has been unsettling.

“While Thomson Reuters has built a brand as a trusted news source, few people realize that the news operation is largely financed by the company’s role as a data broker for agencies like ICE,” Gonzalez said. She added that there are “enormous risks” associated with working with ICE, not the least of which are human rights concerns around the agency’s detention of immigrants and the separation of families trying to enter the US at its border with Mexico.

The Canadian groups want Thomson Reuters to produce a human rights risk report and address “how Thomson Reuters assesses its role in contributing to and being directly linked to human rights impacts by end users,” and how the company “mitigates its role in contributing to adverse human rights impacts from end users.”

Thomson Reuters spokesperson Dave Moran said the company takes its role as a corporate citizen extremely seriously. “Thomson Reuters provides products and services to many parts of the U.S. government in support of the rule of law,” Moran said in an email to The Verge. “We [are] proud of the work we do with law enforcement agencies and public safety organizations and our contribution to making our communities safer.”

In its public response to the shareholder proposal, the company’s board of directors recommends shareholders reject it.

“The Board believes that producing a human rights risk report in the form contemplated by the proposal is not in the best interests of Thomson Reuters or its shareholders,” the response states. “The Board believes that our company’s current policies and practices appropriately and adequately reflect Thomson Reuters’ commitment to respecting human rights.”

Thomson Reuters is the latest big company to face backlash for working with ICE. In 2018, Microsoft employees wrote an open letter to management asking it to cancel any ICE-related contracts. Amazon was criticized for reportedly selling its Rekognition facial recognition software to ICE, and an ICE contract with Microsoft-owned Github sparked protests among developers.

According to Thomson Reuters, CLEAR is only available to “authorized professional and government subscribers that have a certified permissible use” under US state and federal laws, all customers are vetted and trained before they get access to Thomson Reuters products, and have to “certify their specific legally permissible uses prior to each time they seek access to any data.”

The company signed a contract with ICE in 2015 which is in “support of its work on active criminal investigations and priority cases involving threats to national security and/or public safety.” Moran declined to provide details about Thomson Reuters’ contracts with ICE.

Thomson Reuters’ annual shareholders meeting, being conducted virtually this year, is scheduled for June 3rd.


Trump gives TikTok a new deadline: 90 days instead of 45




President Trump issued an executive order Friday giving ByteDance 90 days to either sell or spin off its TikTok business in the US.

“There is credible evidence that leads me to believe that ByteDance … might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States,” Trump wrote in the order, which references national security concerns. ByteDance is based in China, and the Trump administration has recently suggested that the company could share information about Americans with the Chinese government. The company has denied it does so.

The move gives TikTok a bit of a reprieve from Trump’s August 6th order that would have blocked all US transactions with ByteDance, TikTok’s parent corporation, due to what the president referred to as an effort to “address the national emergency with respect to the information and communication technology supply chain.” Originally, TikTok had a September 20th deadline; now, it has until November 12th.

The latest executive order requires ByteDance to destroy any TikTok data from US users, and report to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States once all the data has been destroyed. ByteDance must also destroy any data collected from TikTok precursor app, which the company bought in 2017. The original order with the 45-day deadline didn’t include those requirements.

“As we’ve said previously, TikTok is loved by 100 million Americans because it is a home for entertainment, self-expression, and connection,” ByteDance said in an email statement to The Verge on Friday. “We’re committed to continuing to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform for many years to come.”

Microsoft has been in talks to acquire TikTok — though co-founder Bill Gates has since called the potential deal a “poisoned chalice” — and reports last week suggested Twitter also was interested. It’s not clear how Friday’s executive order affects a potential sale, but Microsoft said it expected to complete the discussions “no later than September 15th, 2020.” Theoretically, Trump’s original timeline would have been enough for Microsoft, so we’re curious if anything has changed.

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Trump will prohibit transactions with Bytedance beginning September 20 in apparent TikTok ban




President Trump has signed a new executive order which will block all transactions with Bytedance, TikTok’s parent corporation, in an effort to “address the national emergency with respect to the information and communication technology supply chain.” It isn’t effectively immediately, but has a 45 day deadline.

“The spread [of apps controlled by the Chinese government] continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” the order reads. “The United States must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security.”

A parallel order banned transactions with WeChat, a popular texting app in China that maintains a small user base in the US.

The move comes after months of escalating tensions, which saw Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others at the White House warn that TikTok presented a national security threat because of its Chinese ownership. On Friday, President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he was preparing to sign some sort of order banning the app.

Those efforts have been complicated by discussions of a potential sale to Microsoft. On Sunday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella confirmed that he had spoken with President Trump about potentially acquiring the portions of TikTok based in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, although huge portions of the deal remain in flux. The company also cautioned that discussions were still tentative and “there can be no assurance that a transaction which involves Microsoft will proceed.”

Microsoft pledged to conclude discussions by September 15th, a date that has been echoed by President Trump. Trump’s new order is set to take effect 45 days after its release or September 20th — just after the deadline set for negotiations in the Microsoft deal.

In both orders, the president names the International Emergency Economic Powers Act as authority for the move, as well as the National Emergencies Act — effectively naming TikTok’s continued operation within the United States as a national emergency. Such a move is highly unusual, and will likely be subject to a legal challenge.

The executive branch has the power to levy sanctions against individuals and corporations by placing them on the “entity list,” as the US did against Huawei and ZTE last year. But such sanctions are typically put in place by the Commerce Department rather than the White House, and subject to a specific rule-making procedure that seems to have been short-circuited by the surprise executive order.

The President also has the power to force the divestiture of US companies from foreign ownership through the Council on Foreign Investment in the United States (or CFIUS). But doing so also requires a specific process that seems to have been discarded in favor of a broader executive order.

It’s unclear how the order will affect TikTok’s ability to operate in the short term. Unlike Huawei and ZTE, the company does not require licenses to to operate its network, and nothing in the order seems to require app stores to cease hosting the app. However, it explicitly covers subsidiaries of Bytedance — specifically the US-based TikTok division — and will apply to any and all financial transfers to and from those subsidiaries. As a result, TikTok is likely to seek a stay of the order in court, or be forced to abruptly discontinue services as it takes effect.

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Facebook and Twitter remove manipulated video from president’s accounts after DMCA complaint




Facebook has removed a manipulated video posted on President Trump’s account after receiving a copyright complaint from the rights owners.

The manipulated video shows a black toddler running away from a white toddler, with a CNN chyron reading “terrified toddler runs from racist baby.” The original video, which went viral last year, sees the total opposite, with the two toddlers running toward each other on the sidewalk so they can hug. The video was created by Carpe Donktum, a prolific pro-Trump meme creator who the president has amplified in the past, and uploaded to both Facebook and Twitter. It arrives as protests across the country fighting against systemic racism in the United States, and on the eve of Juneteenth — a day that many people celebrate as the day slavery ended.

Facebook took the video down after “one of the children’s parents lodged a copyright claim,” according to CNN. A Facebook representative confirmed to The Verge that a complaint was received by the rights holder. It had more than four million views by the time Facebook removed it, according to CNN. Jukin Media, a third-party company that often acquires the rights from people to viral videos, told CNN that “neither the video owner nor Jukin Media gave the President permission to post the video, and after our review, we believe that his unauthorized usage of the content is a clear example of copyright infringement without valid fair use or other defense.”

“We received a copyright complaint from the rights holder of this video under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and have removed the post,” Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, told The Verge.

Jukin Media has also filed a copyright claim complaint to Twitter, according to a statement posted on the company’s account. While Twitter labeled the video as “manipulated media,” it was still active on the President’s account until Friday evening. It appeared to be the first time one of Donktum’s edits has received the “manipulated media” tag, which is usually found on deepfakes. The video has been viewed nearly 20 million times at the time of this writing. It’s still unclear whether Donktum or the president’s team will argue the meme is transformative enough that it’s allowed to exist under fair use.

“We have submitted a DMCA takedown notice on behalf of the video’s creator, and in accordance with Twitter’s policy,” Jukin’s statement reads. “Separately, in no way to we support or condone the manipulate video or the message it conveys. We hope and expect Twitter will take swift action to remove the video.”

On Friday evening, Twitter disabled the video. The video was taken down due to a DMCA notice from the rights holder.

“Per our copyright policy, we respond to valid copyright complaints sent to us by a copyright owner or their authorized representatives,” a Twitter spokesperson told The Verge.

Update June 19th 5:40pm ET: Updated to include comment from Twitter and note it was removed after a copyright complaint. The headline has also been changed to reflect the update.

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