Daily Digest (6/15)

CDC Releases Steps to Reduce COVID Risk in Everyday Activities; Facebook Pitches Tool Allowing Employers to Suppress Words Like ‘Unionize’ in Workplace Chat Product; Feds Comb Social Media to Find Alleged Demonstrators, Looters; Kansas AG: New Contact-Tracing Law Will Protect Privacy, Civil Liberties. Click “Continue reading” below.

CDC Releases Steps to Reduce COVID Risk in Everyday Activities

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines that Director Dr. Robert Redfield said were “common sense suggestions” for people who were seeking to resume daily life after the COVID lockdown.

The agency posted the recommendations Friday, along with those for organizing and attending such big gatherings as concerts, sporting events, protests and political rallies, The Associated Press reports.

But the broader guidelines are “not intended to endorse any particular type of event,” the CDC’s Dr. Jay Butler said.

The staging and attendance of such events should be in accordance with what local health officials are advising, based on how much the coronavirus is spreading in a particular community, he added.

The CDC guidelines urge people to, for instance, take the stairs, not the elevator, from a hotel room; bring your own food and drinks to cookouts; use hand sanitizer after banking at ATMs, and call ahead to restaurants and nail salons to make sure staff are wearing face coverings.

The recommendations however, are long overdue, some health experts say.

Julia Marcus, an infectious disease researcher at Harvard Medical School, has likened stay-at-home suggestions to “abstinence-only” messaging and has pressed for advice to help people minimize risk.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction,” Marcus told AP. “These guidelines are really directed toward ordinary Americans trying to make decisions about risk every day.”

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Facebook Pitches Tool Allowing Employers to Suppress Words Like ‘Unionize’ in Workplace Chat Product

Facebook on Wednesday debuted features for Facebook Workplace, an intranet-style chat and office collaboration product similar to Slack, in a company presentation.

On Facebook Workplace, employees see content similar to a news feed, with automatically generated trending topics based on what people are posting about, The Intercept reports.

But one tool allows administrators to remove and block certain trending topics among employees — and Facebook presenters offered “unionize” as one employers might consider blocking.

The Wednesday presentation backfired, as employees denounced the feature and accused Facebook of designing tools to suppress labor organizing, The Intercept reports.

The presentation was taken down the following day.

“While these kinds of content-moderation tools are useful for companies, this example was poorly chosen and should never have been used,” a Facebook spokesman said.

“The feature was only in early development, and we’ve pulled any plans to roll it out while we think through next steps.”

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Feds Comb Social Media to Find Alleged Demonstrators, Looters

Civil liberties advocates were alarmed that U.S. police are using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to identify potentially violent extremists and vandals and to find ways to charge them after — and in some cases before — they cause real-world chaos.

“As a general matter, I think social media surveillance by the government raises serious concerns about free speech and privacy, and also racial and religious profiling,” Vera Eidelman, an ACLU staff attorney, told Politico.

“And research shows that when people know that what they are saying is being watched, they feel more inhibited.

“They don’t feel as free to share unpopular or radical viewpoints, and they also don’t feel as free to speak generally or to share more private thoughts,” she said.

Based on reviews of charging documents against protestors, the U.S. Justice Department has cited social media posts when building criminal cases for alleged illegal activity that happened during or alongside the demonstrations spurred by last month’s killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

But law-enforcement officials say the strategy is no different from others employed in the past.

“If their logic is that law enforcement should turn away and avert their gaze when they see something in public that could be illegal or incriminating, I am not sure how effective protecting the public the police could be,” one federal police official told Politico.

“For instance, would this extend to barring the police from checking ‘Craig’s List’ for goods reported stolen from a local break-in?” the official asked.

“What about looking through the glass case of a local pawn shop for stolen items? Where would they like the line to be drawn?”

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Kansas AG: New Contact-Tracing Law Will Protect Privacy, Civil Liberties

Kansas legislators passed a “contact tracing” law last week, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, making the state a leader in protecting civil liberties and privacy.

“Contact-tracing is a long-established method used by the public-health community to identify and contain contagious and infectious diseases,” Schmidt said in a statement.

“But the sheer scope and unregulated nature of contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic have left many Kansans concerned about the procedure and about how collected information may be used.

“With this new statute, Kansas will put in place enforceable statutory protections specifically to protect citizens’ privacy and civil liberties during COVID-19 contact-tracing,” Schmidt said.

The COVID response bill approved last week by the Kansas Legislature contains a section enacting “The COVID-19 Contact Tracing Privacy Act.” Schmidt said he had recommended the provision.

Until now, no Kansas statute specifically regulated contact-tracing, and legal disputes already had risen last week, the attorney general said.

The new law is temporary, through April 2021, to give the Legislature time for a more thorough, global review of how contact-tracing should be regulated.

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By DPN Staff