How a ‘vast ocean of goodwill’ between China and Australia turned sour


That was met with an angry response from Beijing, which accused Canberra of a “highly irresponsible” move that could “disrupt international cooperation in fighting the pandemic.” And while China succeeded in watering down language in an eventual resolution at the World Health Assembly calling for an independent probe, it has not forgotten the slight.
Zhao had even more strong words Thursday, after the Five Eyes alliance — of which Australia is a member — criticized Beijing’s recent expulsion of several Hong Kong lawmakers. “No matter how many eyes they have, five or 10 or whatever, should anyone dare to undermine China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, they should be careful not to get their eyes poked out,” Zhao said.
Also this week, Chinese diplomats distributed a document to Australian media listing Beijing’s grievances with Canberra. These include unfairly blocking Chinese investment, spreading “disinformation” about China’s coronavirus response, falsely accusing Beijing of hacking, and engaging in “incessant wanton interference” in Xinjiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong, according to the ABC.
Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said Thursday he had seen the document, but added Australia “will continue to be ourselves.”

“We will set our own laws and our own rules according to our national interest,” Morrison said. “Not at the behest of any other nation, whether that’s the United States or China or anyone else.”

Many observers were surprised by the document, with one calling it “ham-fisted diplomacy,” reflective of a Chinese intolerance for criticism from even Australian media and think tanks — let alone the government.
“All can be repaired if we are willing to muzzle our media, shut down our think tanks, sell off strategic assets and shut up about the origins of Covid-19,” said Chris Uhlmann, political editor for Nine News, the organization that received the document. “Simple.”
A number of the grievances Beijing has with Australia also involve behavior that China itself engages in, such as limiting foreign investment, erecting visa barriers, and restricting the work of foreign journalists and diplomats.
Reacting to the document on Twitter, a representative of the White House National Security Council said “the Chinese Communist Party used to be more subtle in its attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of nations. Their ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy is backfiring; more and more nations worldwide have Australia’s back.”
Just six years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed a “vast ocean of goodwill between China and Australia.” This has soured since, however, as Beijing increasingly flexed its muscles — pressuring the smaller nation diplomatically and economically, and allegedly interfering in Australian politics.

Michael Shoebridge, a national security expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Canberra’s approach with Beijing — which previously focused “wholly on the mutual advantage of economic engagement” — shifted as Xi “aggressively used Chinese strategic, military, cyber, technological and economic power against Australia’s and others’ interests, not just internationally, but also inside our own nations.”

Yet while there may be legitimate concerns about China in a number of countries, such as the role of telecoms manufacturer Huawei in 5G networks, Australia has become more hawkish than most, said Bob Carr, Australia’s former minister for foreign affairs.

“We could have expressed our differences with China without burning the relationship,” he said. “The current government in Canberra believes it is imperative to get close to Washington and they believe the way to do that is to be the most anti-China of America’s allies.”

This resulted in Australia taking the lead on issues such as 5G and the coronavirus investigation — even ahead of the US itself, such as when Canberra banned Huawei ahead of a similar move by Washington.
As ties with Beijing have frayed, the two countries have entered a spiral of worsening relations: the more China pressures Australia, the closer Canberra moves to other regional powers — particularly India and Japan — and doubles down on its relationship with the US, in part through the increasing militarizing of the Quad, an alliance between all four countries.

All such actions further anger China.

“For all the years of engagement with Australia, Beijing doesn’t understand the place or the people,” Shoebridge said. “Bullying Australians achieves the opposite of acquiescence and subservience. And Beijing’s coercion of Australia, now using our trade as a weapon, is helping collapse hard-won soft power gains Beijing had made here and internationally in the last 20 years.”

He predicted that China’s aggressive trade policy in particular could backfire, “because our high levels of trade will wane the more Beijing uses trade as a weapon.” And while Chinese officials have bemoaned attempts by Washington toward decoupling, this is exactly what they’re driving with regards to Australia.

But ultimately it will be Australia that pays the greater price, Carr said. He pointed to the “cruel irony” that the big winners from Australian businesses being excluded from Chinese markets could be Canberra’s allies in New Zealand, Japan, and — particularly — the United States.

“We inflicted self harm to impress Washington, but under its phase one trade agreement with China, it’s US farmers, wine makers and fishers who will fill the gaps in the supermarket shelves vacated by Australian produce,” Carr said, adding that Canberra will look “even more foolish if (President-elect) Biden opens up partnerships with China on climate and pandemic management even as he maintains pressure” on other issues such as the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and cyber security.

This story has been updated to include Zhao Lijian’s Five Eyes comments.





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Coronavirus Victoria COVID-positive Cedar Meats worker turned away from testing twice before first abattoir case detected: inquiry


On April 17, he said, a staff member was sent home sick from the meatworks but that person was unable to get a coronavirus test because they “didn’t have symptoms to warrant a COVID test”.

The worker was turned away from testing twice before returning a positive result after insisting for a third time that a doctor screen him for COVID-19, the inquiry heard.

Cedar Meats in Brooklyn.Credit:Jason South

Mr Kairouz said he was first alerted to a positive case among his staff on April 27. He said that case came to light after another staff member severed his thumb at work and went to the Sunshine Hospital for treatment on April 23, where he developed a cough and was tested for the virus.

Two dozen staff at Sunshine Hospital were later sent home after the Cedar Meats worker tested positive. A nurse at the hospital, who had treated the worker, later tested positive.

Mr Kairouz strongly disputed comments made by then Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos at the time that the cluster had been handled “absolutely perfectly” by the department.

He said the greatest failure in the handling of the outbreak was a Department of Health and Human Services directive for staff to get tested at a multitude of testing sites, rather than setting up a single testing clinic at the abattoir.

Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel says cases weren't being managed properly, with some even lost, in Victoria's contact tracing system.

Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel says cases weren’t being managed properly, with some even lost, in Victoria’s contact tracing system.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“My one wish is that DHHS were able to test on-site because we would have been able to get on top of the outbreak,” he told the inquiry.

“We knew how difficult it would be to communicate with 350 workers of such diverse backgrounds and language barriers once they left business. Time was of the essence. It would have ensured that detailed and more accurate information was obtained from our staff through the use of Cedar managers and interpreters. Unfortunately, DHHS could not organise this.”

Mr Kairouz also said DHHS delays in getting on top of the outbreak meant one of his staff members ended up infecting nine others in their family.

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“It was a devastating situation on a personal level,” Mr Kairouz told the inquiry. “It was a very confusing time for us all. It was a very difficult time. We were harassed and seen to have done something wrong and that was extremely hard for everyone.”

The Age has previously reported that Cedar Meats management ignored reports of workers who believed they may have had coronavirus in mid-April as “rumour and innuendo” weeks before health officials shut down the abattoir.

Between April 13 and 17, Cedar Meats and Labour Solutions, the labour-hire firm that provides more than half of the Cedar Meats workforce, had daily phone calls about a small group of workers, some of whom were off on sick days, who told management they believed they had COVID-19 or believed their coworkers were infected.

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Workers were offered face masks only on April 29, when Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton ordered the closure of the business.

Since the outbreak, Mr Kairouz said he had invested nearly $1 million in measures to protect staff, including thermal cameras, which take the temperature of staff entering the abattoir.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, told the inquiry COVID-19 cases were lost and duplicated during the second wave as Victoria’s contact tracing system was overwhelmed.

He said it was impossible to determine whether the contact tracing systems in other states in Australia would have been overwhelmed like Victoria had they been hit with hundreds of new infections a day.

“It all comes to down preparation,” Dr Finkel said.

“There is no question Victoria’s system was overwhelmed. But it’s very hard to be precise on that. Would another state collapse at 100 cases, per day sustained, per million?

“I know many of the states are training to deal with something like 50 cases per day per million without losing the ability to manage those cases. That’s not easy to do, but we do believe it is achievable.”

Dr Finkel, who has conducted a review of the nation’s contact tracing systems, also said Victoria should continue to aim for risk minimisation, rather elimination and avoid widespread lockdowns and “all their negative consequences”.

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“I have no doubt risk minimisation is the way to go. Risk minimisation is based on constant preparation, well-trained workforces and modern technology to prevent outbreaks before they occur,” he said.

The Age revealed last week that the Victorian Health Department allowed workers at the Cedar Meats abattoir to return to work while waiting on COVID-19 tests during contact tracing efforts in May.

Under the current rules, contacts of close contacts of infected people are told to immediately self-isolate – if those rules had been in place earlier in the year, the plant’s entire 350-strong workforce likely would have been told to quarantine after it was closed by Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

In its submission to the inquiry, the company described evidence given by former health minister Jenny Mikakos to another parliamentary inquiry in May as “factually incorrect”.

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Ms Mikakos told the committee the company took several days to hand over information about who visited the site.

Ms Mikakos, who resigned in September, wrote to Mr Kairouz in August explaining her evidence.

She acknowledged the company handed over timely information, but said contact details were sometimes out of date or lacking full names, meaning the process took longer than anticipated and hampered contact tracing.

A Health Department spokeswoman said last week the department stood by the evidence it gave to the inquiry.

The Cedar Meats outbreak, which prompted a WorkSafe inquiry, put the spotlight on Victoria’s contact tracing system during the first wave of COVID-19 infections. About 10 days after the abattoir was closed, the Andrews government announced a $20 million rapid-response team to handle high-risk outbreaks.

Premier Daniel Andrews was asked about Ms Mikakos comments, which described the handling of Cedar Meats as “absolutely perfect” on Wednesday, but declined to comment.

“I’m not seeking to correct those or add to them,” Mr Andrews told reporters.

“All I’d say to you is that’s a long time ago, there’s a political process going on at the moment down in Melbourne on these issues. I’m going to wait for the report of that parliamentary inquiry, that’s the appropriate thing to do.”

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How the pandemic has turned downtown Toronto condos into ‘challenging’ investments – National


Jaimie Walker figured she couldn’t go wrong owning a condominium in the historic St. Lawrence Market district in downtown Toronto which dates to the late 1700s.

Then the pandemic hit.

“It sat there for three months and three people came in, which was shocking,” she told Global News, referring to the low level of interest when she attempted to lease it.

READ MORE: Toronto rental prices fall, as condo listings surged nearly 114% this summer

Walker first rented the apartment from its previous owner, then bought it and planned, in turn, to rent it to someone else as a way to earn income.

Under ordinary circumstances, the investment plan seemed sound. But now, with nearby office towers nearly empty — downtown workers had fled to suburbs, some moving in with their parents — suddenly rentals were available everywhere.

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Almost overnight, owning a downtown Toronto condo as an investment plan no longer seemed viable. Neither did the idea of selling the unit, as a flood of other condo investors in a similar situation had tried.

“It was getting to the point where I’m not going to get what it’s worth pre-COVID,” Walker said.

In no time, a seller’s market for condos had shifted dramatically.

“It’s totally a buyer’s market,” said Ari Armani, a real estate broker with Royal Lepage Signature Realty.

“COVID-19 had a huge effect on downtown Toronto’s prices,” he said.










Troubling trajectory for Toronto’s COVID-19 cases


Troubling trajectory for Toronto’s COVID-19 cases

With fewer people needing to work downtown, reduced numbers of foreign students needing accommodation, and almost no new immigration or foreign tourism to fuel short-term rentals, a housing glut had appeared in an area of Toronto with historically high demand.

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“All of these factors make the downtown market a vulnerable one,” said Janet Yao, who owns a Toronto condo apartment as an investment, as do her parents. Both units are up for sale.

“It’s challenging,” Yao told Global News, explaining that there is almost no buyer interest in the properties at the moment.

Last week, the Toronto real estate consulting firm Urbanation Inc. reported that the total number of new condominium apartment sales in the Greater Toronto Area increased 30 per cent, year-over-year. But the record high 6,370 units was buffeted by a 10-year low in second-quarter sales, the period right after the pandemic was declared.

As a result, year-to-date sales were down 22 per cent to 13,454 units.

READ MORE: Toronto condo, apartment rental prices drop again amid ongoing coronavirus pandemic

“This regional shift in activity is expected to continue as buyers gravitate to less expensive markets while the downtown area faces supply challenges in the near term,” said Shaun Hildebrand, Urbanation’s president, in a statement.

In October, Urbanation reported that downtown Toronto rental vacancy rates had increased to 2.8 per cent from only 0.7 per cent a year ago.

“The market will continue to face challenges heading into 2021 from restrained demand caused by COVID-19 and elevated supply levels,” Hildebrand said.

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So what does this mean for investors who bought condominium apartments thinking they were a safe bet?

“It looks a little dark and dampening out there but I would really focus on what the future investment is, not necessarily what is happening today,” said Tom Storey, a sales representative with Royal LePage Signature Realty.


Click to play video 'The New Reality: How COVID-19 could impact the commercial real estate market'







The New Reality: How COVID-19 could impact the commercial real estate market


The New Reality: How COVID-19 could impact the commercial real estate market

But in the near term, Storey cautions investors not to expect the returns they had counted on.

“I think expectations have to change,” Storey said, adding that for investors trying to fill their condo apartments, units are still leasing but owners have to adjust their price demands.

Jaimie Walker, the woman who initially ran into problems finding a tenant, and then saw the sales market collapse, got lucky.

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Her boyfriend, a real estate agent, located a buyer for her unit and didn’t even list it on the market. The deal was signed in August and closed in October. Afterward, she saw more desirable units in her building on the market for $100,000 less than the price she accepted.

Others, needing to sell, aren’t so fortunate.

“I do feel for anyone who bought with the intention of it being an investment property,” she said.

 




© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.





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The QR code has turned COVID-19 check-ins into a golden opportunity for marketing and data companies


Tens of thousands of small and medium Australian businesses that rushed to outsource the management of their COVID check-in obligations could find themselves snared in a looming data privacy calamity.

At stake are the personal details of millions of Australians who have visited cafes, restaurants and pubs or attended places of worship, wedding and funeral venues since rules designed to help manage the spread of the virus were introduced earlier this year.

These regulations, which operate in most states and territories, require customers and visitors to provide their name and contact details so that they can be traced in the event there’s a potential virus transmission risk.

However, many of these electronic check-ins are outsourced to registration platforms that are often owned by companies that deal in collecting data, some operating under opaque rules about how that information is stored and used.

As it slowly emerges out of lockdown, the Victorian Government is exploring its own QR code register.(ABC News: John Graham)

Privacy and cybersecurity experts are warning that the lack of due diligence in vetting providers has left the system and the “gold standard” personal data it manages vulnerable to exploitation.

“Governments have made collection compulsory, without exercising supervision about how it is carried out,” said Graham Greenleaf, a professor of law and information systems at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The problem is set to be compounded as thousands more venues in Victoria open for business again after a strict three-month lockdown.

The kind of information being collected is a highly prized commodity with the data broking industry, giving users of that data direct access to a person’s inbox and their mobile handset.

And there are concerns that the data could potentially be resold, used for identity fraud or to track a person’s location and social groups, and employed in micro-targeted advertising for misinformation campaigns.

a stand showing off a QR code with a female barista in the background
QR codes exploded in Sydney due to contamination and privacy risks with paper forms.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

Justin Warren, from privacy and digital rights group Electronic Frontier Australia (EFA), said while some appeared to be doing the right thing, he had also observed the hallmarks of a “marketing surveillance” operation.

He said the abundance of smaller companies collecting and storing the data had also created a “honeypot” for cyber criminals.

“We have a lot of people whose primary business is running a cafe, they’re not technical experts,” Mr Warren said.

“[These] conditions really lend to mistakes that people will regret later on. With privacy, once you’ve lost it, it’s kind of gone forever.”

Big, green tick of approval

While some venues offer patrons a pen and paper solution, the majority use a contactless technology based on scannable QR (quick response) codes.

The characteristic black squares are essentially a barcode, which when scanned with a smartphone, converts its geometric patterns into readable text — usually a website address.

The customer types their name and contact details into a form on the web page before submitting the details and receiving a confirmation, often displayed as a big green tick.

But the ABC found some companies did not have specific COVID privacy policies, as recommended by the federal privacy commissioner.

signage of restaurant opening times next to a pink QR code
Larger venues are able to produce their own QR code system, but many businesses flocked to “free” services.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

Other companies, such as UberEats rival HungryPanda, didn’t appear to make any distinctions between COVID-related data and information it harvested from customers pre-pandemic.

At least 50 Asian eateries in NSW, many located in Sydney’s CBD, using HungryPanda’s check-in service defaulted to the app’s standard terms and conditions.

Those policies allow the company to share customer details with “partners for marketing or promotions”.

Company spokeswoman Tina Sun said there was no intention to collect the COVID check-in data for purposes other than contact tracing.

“We can’t access the data because we didn’t want to take the risk,” she said.

Ms Sun said it was up to each business to manage their COVID data and said HungryPanda would again “remind the restaurants” about their privacy obligations.

Vanessa Teague, cryptography professor and founder of Thinking Cybersecurity, said good intentions weren’t enough.

“A company doesn’t always live up to their promises and even if they want to, this doesn’t just preclude security problems or accidental data breaches,” she said.

a woman in a blazer, smiling in a garden
Cryptographer Vanessa Teague warned cyber criminals could exploit databases.(ABC News: Kyle Harley)

There are no available figures around how many private entities are managing the digital check-in process, nor the volume of check-in data that has been generated.

The four companies willing to disclose their check-in figures — MyGuestList (MGL), BGL Corporate Solutions, NCH Software and ImpactData — have managed upwards of 28 million COVID registrations since the start of the pandemic.

MGL, which labels itself as “Australia’s Most Powerful Marketing Platform”, has stored over 20 million COVID check-ins across over 20,000 locations in its servers in Canada and backups in the United States.

An MGL spokesperson said the data was only used for contact tracing and was protected under Canada’s more robust privacy laws.

NSW so far has the strictest compulsory registrations, with gyms, hospitality venues, funeral homes, and places of public worship all required to collect the names and phone numbers of all patrons.

But the NSW Government’s visitor registration feature that is integrated into the ServiceNSW app is not widely accepted and has only had 1.1 million check-ins since it launched in September.

In June, the NSW Government said businesses unable to record visitor details would be forbidden from reopening after the COVID lockdown and that non-compliance would be punished with heavy fines.

“Guidance” around how that data should be collected and stored was established around the same time by the federal privacy watchdog, the Office of the Australian Information Commission (OAIC).

It said customers must be clearly informed about what information was being collected, that it should be stored securely, that it should not be used for purposes other than contact tracing and it should be destroyed once it was no longer needed.

In Queensland, the retention for the data is 56 days, while in other states it is 28 days.

a woman behind a glass window with a qr code printed on a paper standing in front of her
Scanning QR codes to sit down at cafes have become second nature to Sydneysiders.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

An OAIC spokesperson said it had held regular consultations with business groups to advise about “best privacy practice” and how to incorporate privacy principles into the design of registration systems.

However, some companies were found to be falling short.

“Some of these applications are asking for a lot more information than they actually need to,” EFA’s Mr Warren said.

“The regulations are pretty prescriptive, so they say here in Victoria it’s just a first name and a contact number.

“But some of these applications are asking for a lot more information than that including things like last name, email address and other things they could use to potentially track you.”

a man working on his laptop on a table, his shirt reads "danger, designed by humans"
“With privacy, once you’ve lost it, it’s kind of gone forever,” digital rights advocate Justin Warren said.(ABC News: Kyle Taylor)

An example where information has been collected outside the scope of contact tracing is with the free digital check-in service GuestTrack, which allows for the collection of a user’s date of birth.

The app, which has registered over 2 million check-ins across 3,500 businesses, was created by Melbourne-based software and data service company BGL Corporate Solutions.

Its founder, Ron Lesh, said this was an optional feature which had to be enabled by the business itself.

He said he created the app in July to “give back to the community” and had no intention of profiting from the re-use of COVID check-in data.

‘Gold standard data’

Some of the personal information collected by smaller QR code providers during the “cowboy period” before late May, when the OAIC stepped in, could have already ended up in improper hands, according to data commercialisation expert Peter Leonard.

“It’s fair to say that some of the early providers of the apps were not as careful with their information management practices,” he said.

“[But] there are probably still some operators who are not really aware of the restrictions that the law imposes and they may still be sharing data in ways that they shouldn’t.”

a man with glasses smiling in front of a cafe
Peter Leonard said the federal privacy watchdog’s legal stoush with Facebook would tie up its resources.(ABC News)

An OAIC spokesperson said it had received about 10 complaints about the collection of information by venues this year, half of which related to QR codes.

The regulator said it had “proactively written to a range of digital check-in service providers and related industry groups” about their privacy obligations.

Even if the OAIC was able to police all breaches — which Mr Leonard says it doesn’t have the resources to do, especially if the data moves overseas — there is little incentive for the smaller operators to do the right thing.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) said the privacy regulator was concerned about the lack of oversight on small companies.

While the federal regulator can pursue breaches with the big companies, businesses with an annual turnover of less than $3 million are not accountable for any privacy breaches.

“This means that some small organisations collecting COVID check-in data would not be subject to privacy rules and could potentially misuse check-in data,” the OVIC spokeswoman said.

a printed out guide stuck on a table with a QR code on a table
It’s not always clear which company is managing check-ins data until you scan the QR code.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

UNSW’s Professor Greenleaf said the information being collected in COVID check-ins was “gold standard data”.

“With fragmentary data what you want to be able to do with that is match it with really rock solid identification data about a person,” Professor Greenleaf said.

He said an existing database might include search histories of a person looking up particular types of illnesses, operations or medical conditions.

“But before they didn’t really have an effective way of contacting you, now they’ve got that data, which makes you vulnerable.”

Mr Leonard said for marketers looking to micro-target, having those personal details packaged together could mean paying the “difference between cents and dollars” for advertising campaigns.

Looking overseas for solutions

While the check-in measures have helped to allow authorities to quickly trace those exposed to outbreaks, experts say we should look to the United Kingdom and New Zealand to find the balance between public health and privacy.

The UK recently launched its NHS QR code program, which allows visitors to “anonymously register” that they’ve been to a location.

A person would enter a restaurant or public venue, scan a displayed QR code and the information would only be stored locally on the person’s device like a personal diary.

When a person tests positive to COVID-19, health authorities would access the encrypted data directly from their phone and issue a public health alert about their movements.

Other people can then, through the app, check their own “diary” against those locations to determine if they’ve been exposed.

a hand holding a phone in front of a QR code, the screen has a big green confirmation tick
Experts say Australia should copy the NZ Tracer app to manage COVID check-in obligations.(Facebook: Ministry of Health NZ)

Across the Tasman Sea, the NZ Tracer app worked in a similar way and effectively removed the need for private businesses to manage the digital check-in process.

Prior to the app’s introduction in May, NZ authorities were alarmed by potential data mining operations.

“We definitely had some concerns,” said Shayne Hunter from the NZ Ministry of Health, who helped develop the app.

While many, he said, were individuals or private entities trying to genuinely help, there were some who “did have thoughts around how they might be able to use the data”.

Once the app launched and the Government notified them of new privacy obligations, he said many private providers simply “disappeared”.

“I think once they realised we were going down that path, there were a lot who just fell by the wayside,” Mr Hunter said.

Professor Teague said the inherent flaw in the Australian model was that the databases existed at all.

“Instead of architecting things that protect our privacy we are responding by designing things that are inherently invading our privacy,” she said.

“And then we get really upset about vulnerable databases … but it wouldn’t be vulnerable if it wasn’t in existence.”



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‘We Haven’t Turned up any Discrepancies’ in Bobulinski Claims So Far



On Thursday’s broadcast of the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity,” Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) stated that the verification and validation that the committee has engaged in so far has not “turned up any discrepancies” in the claims made by former Hunter Biden business associate Tony Bobulinski earlier this week and that “Everything appears to be authentic that we’ve looked at so far.”

Host Sean Hannity asked, [relevant exchange begins around 4:10] “Can you confirm the laptop and Tony Bobulinski and what he said to Tucker Carlson this week?”

Johnson responded, “All I can say is that all the verification, all the validation we’re doing, we haven’t turned up any discrepancies. Everything appears to be authentic that we’ve looked at so far.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett





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Border Officials Turned Away Unaccompanied Immigrant Children More Than 13,000 Times


The Department of Homeland Security has expelled unaccompanied immigrant children from the US border more than 13,000 times since March, when the Trump administration gave the agency unprecedented powers to close off access at the border during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an internal document obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The figure represents a major jump in child expulsions since the CDC issued an order allowing border officials to expel nearly all immigrants crossing from Mexico as the coronavirus was spreading rapidly across the world in March.

“This is an enormous number of children who are being summarily sent back without any due process, potentially to serious or fatal danger,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU who has been working to stop the order.

Previously, unaccompanied children were sent to government-run shelters as they attempted to pursue their asylum cases. But the Trump administration has argued that the policy is necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the US and has been a key tool for border agents.

Expulsions are legally different than deportations, which would mean an immigrant had actually undergone the immigration process and found to not be legally allowed to stay in the US. Critics say the government is using the public health orders as an excuse to violate federal laws that govern the processing of unaccompanied minors at the border.

In September, a border official declared in federal court that around 8,800 children had been turned around through the use of the CDC order. The internal DHS document states that since March, there have been more than 13,000 “encounters” with unaccompanied immigrant children under the new policy.

A US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson did not confirm the statistic due to ongoing litigation but stated that “encounters” meant expulsions.

“Once encountered, they would be expelled,” the spokesperson said, noting that the statistic could also include children who return to the border multiple times.

Before the pandemic, unaccompanied children picked up by Border Patrol agents would be sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they would be housed in shelters as they officially started applying for asylum and waited to be reunited with family members in the US.

The ORR referral process was created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed by then-president George W. Bush in 2008. Under the law, CBP officials are generally required to refer the children within 72 hours to the US refugee agency.

But those referrals dropped precipitously after the CDC order. Instead, unaccompanied children at the border are turned back immediately to Mexico or held in CBP facilities until a flight can remove them out of the country.

In late June, US District Judge Carl Nichols, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, blocked the deportation of a 16-year-old Honduran boy under the CDC order. While the ruling did not void the policy altogether, it was seen as a blow to the administration. Since then, the government has said it was no longer seeking to use the CDC order to remove the boy from the country.

In September, a federal judge also ordered the Trump administration to stop detaining immigrant children in hotels before quickly sending them back to their home countries under the pandemic border policy.



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Boxer Tim Tszyu turned professional just three years ago, but he’s already charting a course to a world title


Like all boxers, Tim Tszyu is on a mission.

After turning professional only three and a half years ago he has already had 16 fights for 16 wins, the last against former world champion Jeff Horn in Townsville this past August.

Now, only three months later, he has announced his next fight will be against New Zealand’s Bowyn Morgan at Parramatta’s Bankwest Stadium on December 16 as he charts a course to a world title.

Tszyu was first a gymnast, then a footballer, but submitted to a deep call within to move into the boxing ring.

It is in his genes.

Tim is the son of Kostya Tszyu, once an undisputed champion of the world and now a Hall of Famer, but it is his grandfather, he says, that he is closest to.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Tszyu outclassed former world champion Jeff Horn in a “perfect” performance.

When he defeated Horn by TKO his performance was enough for close observers of the sport to suggest he had emerged from his father’s shadow.

On all five world rankings, the Super Welterweight/Junior Middleweight is already inside the top 10, with the WBO ranking him number two.

Tszyu was happy with Horn defeat — but not satisfied

He says his drive comes from knowing he is capable of achieving his dreams.

“When you know something you’ve just got to do it,” Tszyu said.

“Everyone wakes up in the morning for a particular reason, some people decide to stay in bed, some people don’t.

“This is why I get up, because I know that I can be the best and each day is the sacrifice of becoming that.”

He admits to being hard on himself, constantly asking those closest to him what he needs to be better.

Tim Tszyu (left) strikes Jeff Horn.
Tszyu (left) strikes Horn. The boxer says he believes in being “cruel” to himself to make sure he can “feel that hunger”.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

After defeating Horn by technical knockout some might have expected a celebration of sorts. There was not one.

“I was happy, I was not satisfied,” Tszyu said.

“Once you’re satisfied that means you’re done, you’re too nice on yourself.

“You’ve got to be cruel because you need to be able to wake up and feel that hunger.

“Hunger is the key to success.”

Same intensity in Tszyu’s eyes as in his father’s

Those who knew his father when he first came to Australia to compete at the 1991 World Amateur Championships recognise the same intensity in the younger Tszyu’s eyes.

Back then, after winning a world title, he said he would turn professional almost immediately.

He was asked at the time why not wait another year, as he was a certainty for an Olympic gold medal if he competed at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

“Medals don’t pay bills,” he told the ABC at the time.

Tim Tszyu holds his father's hand after he arrives back in Australia after successfully defending his world title in 2002.
Tszyu with his father in 2002, after the Hall of Famer successfully defended his world title.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

When asked to describe what he sees as the similarities between him and his father, Tszyu said:

“But we’re different, we like different things.

“My dad was a real [hardcore] guy, very difficult to be around while I’m the opposite, I think … I’m easier, a bit easier going.

“I’m very caring, I think that’s one of the qualities my mum has given me.”

Tszyu does a casual thousand crunches every day to engage his core

Tszyu trains around four hours a day.

Anyone who has seen his fight preparation in the dressing room would have noticed the 150 or so crunches he does to engage his core before entering the ring.

On a regular training day he does “about a thousand” and credits his tightknit training group for keeping him focused and motivated.

“My trainer and my grandfather, they are two people that put me in line and make me think about reality,” he said.

Boris Tszyu has a watchful eye, never straying far from where his grandson is or what he is doing.

Boris Tszyu stands to the left of his grandson Tim and places his arm around him. They're wearing matching hoodies.
Tszyu says his grandfather helps keep him in line.(ABC News: Tracey Holmes)

“For example, if it’s someone’s birthday and there’s a piece of chocolate cake he’ll be looking at me to make sure I’m not eating that chocolate cake, he puts me straight,” Tszyu laughs.

“My grandfather is a massive influence in my daily life.”

Asked whether his grandfather treated him the same as he treated his son, Tszyu said it was a bit different.

“A father and son relationship is much different to a grandfather,” he said.

“My dad hasn’t been here for 15 years so I can’t remember what those two were like.

“He’s always there for me no matter what, through the ups, through the downs.

“People only see the ups but let’s just say there’s a lot more downs than ups.

“There are days when you wake up and you’re sore, you’re tired, everything is hurting, you’ve got no energy, you’re hungry, there are days when you are just feeling down … Grandpa is always there.”

Why Tszyu flicks his emotions off in the ring

While there is a deep bond between grandfather and grandson Tszyu says there is no room for emotion inside the ring.

He has learned how to flick it on and off like a switch.

“Once the fight finishes, you’re a different person, you can go back to being a human.”

And will he allow himself to celebrate after his next victory?

“Once I am the best in the world then we can have a celebration and a bit of a relaxing time, focus on new goals and that, but there’s no point celebrating if you haven’t reached there yet.

“You’re climbing up the mountain, you only celebrate once you’re at the top.”

Asked whether his father was with him in that mental image of being on top of the mountain, Tszyu said: “I’m not competing with Dad.”

“If I can do 50 per cent of what my dad did in his career, I’ll be climbing three mountains,” he added.

“He’s the pinnacle of not just boxing but sport, in Australia, in Russia, in the world … he’s a Hall of Famer.”

There is another similarity between father and son, the love of two countries.

“Look, I’ve got a lot of Russian in me — my culture, my grandfather and everything around my house was always Russian, I was born and bred in Australia but on the inside I’m Russian so for me it’s got a special place in my heart.

“Culture is very important, tradition and all of that.

“I feel like I’ve got a responsibility for the Russian people as well because look, I am Russian, I’m just an Aussie-born Russian.”



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Hong Kong asylum seekers turned away by US consulate


HONG KONG — Four pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong went to the U.S. Consulate here to seek asylum but were apparently turned away, the South China Morning Post reported Tuesday.

Asked about the matter by Nikkei, the consulate said it has no information to provide at this time.

The four individuals ran up the street and talked to security guards at the entrance before being let in, according to the SCMP report. The exact nature of the conversation is not known. The Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper said it is understood that the asylum claims were rejected but there was no official confirmation.

At least one of the activists faces charges related to participating in anti-government demonstrations last year, the SCMP reported.

Separately, Hong Kong police arrested three activists that day under the national security law, including Tony Chung, former leader of pro-independence group Studentlocalism. The Oriental Daily News reported that Chung was headed to the U.S. Consulate to seek asylum but detained at a nearby coffee shop before he could approach the consulate building. It is not known whether these arrests are connected with the asylum bid by the four activists.

In August, 12 Hong Kong activists attempting to reach Taiwan were detained at sea by Chinese authorities.

Asylum bids are becoming a diplomatic issue as Beijing clamps down on pro-democracy activists. The Chinese government warned Canada not to accept Hong Kong protest participants as refugees. And the Hong Kong government recently criticized Germany for granting refugee status to a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist facing a rioting charge in connection with last year’s anti-China protests.





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‘Perfect storm’: How Nigeria’s peaceful police protests turned violent


October 27, 2020

By Alexis Akwagyiram

LAGOS (Reuters) – Tears fill Ephraim Osinboyejo’s eyes as he recalls the idealism that drove thousands of Nigerians like him into the streets to campaign against police brutality – and the night he saw young activists gunned down.

The 39-year-old businessman says he returned to Nigeria last year after two decades abroad because he wanted to help his country. When nationwide demonstrations began on Oct. 8, he volunteered to manage logistics at the main protest site in Lagos.

But what began as a largely peaceful movement, driven by young, tech-savvy activists who used social media to grab global attention, turned into some of the worst street violence the country has seen since the end of military rule in 1999.

Police and soldiers enforcing a curfew killed at least 12 people in two Lagos neighbourhoods on Oct. 20, according to witnesses and rights group Amnesty International. The army and police denied involvement.

In the following days, crowds set fire to police stations and government offices. Looting was reported at shopping malls and government food warehouses. Curfews were imposed on millions.

Protest organizers, some in hiding, are now urging followers to stay off the streets and campaign online as police have made their presence increasingly felt.

“I feel defeated. I feel disappointed. I feel sad,” Osinboyejo said at the Lekki district toll gate where hundreds had gathered to protest abuses by a notorious police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

Days later, cars were passing through the toll gate as the protests subsided. The image of a clenched fist daubed onto the road and a few Nigerian flags lying in a gutter were the only reminders of the joyful crowds who danced and sang there a week ago.

‘PERFECT STORM’

Protesters and government officials have both said that the people doing the looting and vandalism are not for the most part the same people who mobilised against police brutality.

“We completely condemn any form of violence or looting,” a coalition of protest groups said in a statement on Saturday.

Demonstrators accused officials of paying armed gangs to disrupt peaceful protests – a common tactic during elections, according to rights groups.

“If people cannot afford basic needs, you have people who are willing to do anything to get by,” Osinboyejo said.

Reuters could not verify the accusation. Videos of unidentified men attacking demonstrators in Lagos and the capital Abuja with knives and sticks were shared on social media early in the protests.

Spokesmen for the Nigeria Police Force and Interior Ministry did not respond to calls and text messages seeking comment.

Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu blamed criminal elements for the unrest, saying “miscreants were hiding under the umbrella of the protests to unleash mayhem”.

Police used live ammunition to disperse crowds in Lagos, Abuja and Jos, Amnesty International said.

While such shootings may have been the catalyst for escalating unrest, analysts also point to the parlous state of Africa’s biggest economy.

Some 35% of people aged 15-34 are unemployed. Families already struggling to put food on the table because of double-digit inflation also face rising fuel and electricity costs which the government can no longer afford to subsidize.

“The ingredients for a perfect storm have been there for a while,” said Malte Liewerscheidt, a vice president with New York-based risk consultancy Teneo.

The violence brought widespread criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari, with many questioning his control over security forces and angered by his failure to condemn the killings in his first speech after the incident. He is in his final term as president but his All Progressives Congress party could lose support from young voters.

LEKKI SHOOTING

SARS was disbanded on Oct. 11, but protests persisted with demonstrators calling for wider law enforcement reforms.

Around 2 p.m. on Oct. 20, news of a round-the-clock curfew started spreading through the crowd in Lekki, but many decided to stay, Osinboyejo said.

Around 7 p.m., armed men in army fatigues arrived, he said.

He and other organizers urged demonstrators to kneel down, wave flags and sing the national anthem, but the men raised their guns and shot into the crowd, six witnesses told Reuters.

“This place was a war zone,” Osinboyejo said. “The gunfire was relentless … I didn’t think we would see tomorrow.”

The army says its forces were not at Lekki that night.

Days later, Nicholas Okpe, 37, lay in a Lagos hospital wheezing and coughing from a bullet wound to the chest.

An unemployed driver, he said he was collecting litter dropped at the Lekki protest site when the shooting happened. For him the campaign is about more than police reforms – it is about justice.

“Anger is inside our belly. Because many of us don’t get work, we just get frustrated,” he said.

The Feminist Coalition – a rights group that raised 147 million naira ($385,000) for the protests through crowdfunding, said on Thursday it was no longer accepting donations.

It would use any remaining funds to cover medical and legal bills, and provide financial support to victims of police brutality.

“We are young Nigerians with hopes, dreams and aspirations for our country. This means we need to stay alive to pursue our dreams to build the future,” the statement said.

Despite his sadness, Osinboyejo remains optimistic for Nigeria.

“There are a lot of young people who have come together, for the first time maybe, to say they will not stand by and watch their country burn,” he said, choking back tears.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Additional reporting by Angela Ukomadu in Lagos and Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Giles Elgood)





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