Behind The Surveil
January 4, 2022
The Good News
- Vancouver Canucks assistant equipment manager thanks fan who noticed his melanoma at game against Seattle Kraken (CNN)
- US Marshals find five missing teenagers in New Orleans during ‘Operation Boo Dat’ (CNN)
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” – George Orwell
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” – Plutarch
Behind The Surveil
China’s monitoring of their own Internet is notorious, but it seems the country is turning their attentions elsewhere. A review by the Washington Post of Chinese bidding documents, contracts, and company filings found that the country is mining Western social media posts on platforms like Twitter and Facebook to provide intel to their government, military, and police force. China uses software called “public opinion analysis software” to warn officials when sensitive information is posted online in the country, and has been doing so for many years. It was generally thought to be focused on internal activity, but hundreds of documents from over 300 Chinese government projects revealed that this is not the case.
The documents in question are publicly available online, and also show that state media, propaganda departments, police, military, and cyber regulators are in the process of upgrading their monitoring systems – and they don’t come cheap. One software, which created and maintains a database of journalists and academics in foreign countries by sifting through Twitter and Facebook, cost over $300K. Another system is dedicated to monitoring conversations regarding Taiwan and Hong Kong, and yet another is focused on Uyghur content abroad. A Beijing-based analyst who works for a unit reporting to China’s Central Propaganda Department said that one of their projects was to create a report on the way negative content spreads on Twitter about Beijing’s senior leadership, which involved profiling journalists, activists, and politicians. This allows the country to “better understand the underground network of anti-China personnel,” according to the analyst.
The software helps the propaganda department determine what’s working and what isn’t, and allows them to track any trending topics that work against Beijing’s goals. Monitoring social media isn’t necessarily new, or even unique, but according to Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, “They are now reorienting part of that effort outward, and I think that’s frankly terrifying, looking at the sheer numbers and sheer scale that this has taken.” The purchases made are both large and small, some of which are monitored around the clock by English-speaking teams and foreign policy specialists. Sources say the data automatically collects and stores tweets, posts, and other information from both Twitter and Facebook for analysis. Both social media giants ban automated collection without prior authorization, and Twitter goes a step further, prohibiting gathering data that’s used to determine someone’s political, racial, or ethnic affiliations. (WaPo, $)
A Folded Newspaper
- Citizen News, a Hong Kong online news site, announced that they would stop updating their site amidst a crackdown on dissent by the government. “We all love this place, deeply. Regrettably, what was ahead of us is not just pouring rains or blowing winds, but hurricanes and tsunamis,” they said in a statement.
- Their announcement on Sunday came just days after police raided and arrested seven people at another pro-democracy news outlet. “We have never forgotten our original intent. Sadly, we can no longer strive to turn our beliefs into reality without fear because of the sea change in the society over the past two years and the deteriorating media environment.”
- The third news outlet to close in recent months, authorities in Hong Kong have moved swiftly to silence dissent in the city under Beijing’s national security law. The two other news outlets that shut down were newspaper Apple Daily and online site Stand News. The U.S. and other Western governments have condemned diminishing press and civil freedoms that Beijing promised to uphold for 50 years following Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from Britain. (ABC)
Kim Jong Un Addresses Food Shortages
- During his year-end speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addressed the country’s “food problem” once again. After a long period of silence from the country during the Covid-19 pandemic, the year-end address focused on the need to boost agricultural productivity.
- It also briefly referred to “emergency epidemic prevention work,” according to a summary by state media outlet KCNA. Kim Jong Un also praised military advances made during his tenth year in power, but made no specific mention of South Korea nor the United States.
- While the North Korean leader did not detail the degree of food scarcity, the World Food Organization warned of severe shortages in the country in 2021 including a shortfall of hundreds of thousands of tons of rice. Kim Jong Un also brought up the issue to the country’s citizens in April and June, when he urged people to undertake another “Arduous March” and admitted the country was facing a “tense food situation.” (CNN)
Additional World News
- Tutu remains interred amid call to rename Cape Town airport (AP)
- Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil President, hospitalized with intestinal obstruction (CNN)
- US cuts off Ethiopia, Mali, Guinea from Africa duty-free trade program (Reuters)
- Trump endorses Hungary’s Orbán for reelection (Politico)
- Gas still flowing east from Germany to Poland via Yamal pipeline (Reuters)
- Suspect arrested and charged as fire reignites at South Africa’s Parliament (CNN)
- Haitian prime minister survives weekend assassination attempt (Reuters)
- After years in athletic apparel, Revtown’s founders decided to take the best parts of workout clothes and apply them to denim. You get comfort, flexibility, and durability in one awesome piece.
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Joe With The Flow
- On Sunday, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During their meeting, Biden let Zelensky know that the U.S. would “respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.”
- The meeting came just a few days after Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he pushed Putin to ease tensions created by the gathering of up to 100,000 Russian troops at the Russia-Ukraine border. U.S. intelligence findings state that Russian forces could invade Ukraine “as soon as early 2022.”
- The U.S. and its European allies have made it abundantly clear to Russia that there would be consequences for any military actions it might take against Ukraine. During his Friday call with Putin, Biden threatened heavy sanctions from NATO allies and increased NATO presence in Europe should Russia make a move. He also stated that any actions taken against Ukraine would lead to a complete diplomatic breakdown between the two superpowers. (CNN)
- The House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol Hill insurrection has obtained information describing what former President Donald Trump was doing during the riots from “a collection of people with relevant information” according to a source close to the investigation. Some key witnesses the committee has investigated to date include Keith Kellogg, former national security advisor to then-Vice President Mike Pence, and Mark Meadow, Trump’s former chief of staff.
- Kellogg testified under oath to the committee without protest, but Meadows has been reported to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress after he failed to show for his scheduled deposition. According to Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, the committee has “significant testimony that leads us to believe that the White House had been told to do something” by many people on Trump’s team, but the former President failed to take action as violence unfolded. The committee hopes to present more findings in public hearings later this year, but has not yet given its timeline. (CNN)
Additional USA News
- Winter storm in Washington DC brings snow and grounds Biden’s helicopter (Guardian)
- Defense secretary tests positive for Covid, says his symptoms are mild (NBC)
- Marjorie Taylor Greene has been suspended from Twitter permanently (CBS)
- Biden to meet with farmers as he seeks to cut meat prices (AP)
- Poll: A majority of Americans believe US democracy is in crisis (NPR)
- Eldest Trump children won’t comply with subpoenas from New York attorney general (ABC)
- US schools delay openings as Omicron pushes pandemic to record highs (Reuters)
Paper Or Plastic?
- One company is betting big on paper packaging. Graphic Packaging Holding, Co. is investing $600 million to create a new paperboard production line, the first one built in the United States in a very long time. Graphic will shut down four smaller, inefficient machines, including one that is 100 years old.
- In their place, an enormous machine will take recycled cardboard and turn it into paperboard. Consumer-goods companies will benefit by touting their environmentally-friendly packaging to investors and customers, as the new machines will use less water and electricity, and emit 20% less greenhouse gas. Graphic is thinking that, even if prices on goods go up slightly, the amount of money being invested in green packaging solutions will allow them to profit off the switch.
- This large of an investment from a company is also a major test of if investments in environmental, social, and governance transformations will actually make a difference in the supply chain. As the United States pushes towards carbon neutrality, companies have to find places to make cuts, and Graphic says that they won’t be able to reach their goals without changing how they package their products. (WSJ)
- Crime Prediction Keeps Society Stuck in the Past (Wired)
- The Quest to Trap Carbon in Stone—and Beat Climate Change (Wired)
- How the US census led to the first data processing company 125 years ago (Ars Technica)
- For mammals, eating other animals can increase cancer risk (Ars Technica)
- Jim Green, NASA’s Retiring Top Scientist, Says We Can Terraform Mars (NYT, $)
- Study Confirms Southern Ocean is Absorbing Carbon (NASA)
- Kohler’s latest bathroom tech fills the tub for you (CNET)
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