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Aluminium in the car industry causes human rights violations

Created at 29. July 2021, 12:59 | Category: News

Human rights violations and environmental destruction occur in the aluminium supply chains of the car industry. NGOs are demanding more diligence from manufacturers.

Bauxite-Mine
Where once there was vital farmland, only holes in the ground remain after bauxite mining. (Source: IMAGO / Danita Delimont)

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The automotive industry is one of the world’s largest consumers of aluminium. Around one fifth of the metal mined is used in vehicles every year. However, aluminium production in many countries goes hand in hand with environmental destruction and human rights violations, such as the destruction of farmland, massive CO2 emissions and displacement.

The human rights organisations Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Inclusive Development International (IDI) published a detailed report last week documenting the global aluminium supply chains of car manufacturers and their impacts in extraction and production countries. For this purpose, the organisations conducted field research for three years and spoke with nine major automotive companies: BMW, Daimler, Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen, among others. BYD, Hyundai and Tesla did not respond to the enquiries.

Aluminium production leaves its mark on countries where metal is mined and in nations that process the raw material. In large areas of land, farmland and natural habitats are destroyed, while local residents are displaced. Waste water pollutes rivers and lakes and leads to drinking water shortages. Car manufacturers who buy the aluminium have not yet sufficiently examined their supply chains for such abuses. However, first initiatives give hope.

Destroyed Land

Aluminium comes from mines, refineries and smelters in Guinea, Ghana, Brazil, China, Malaysia and Australia. The raw material is found in bauxite, which is a reddish aluminium ore. Even the extraction of bauxite causes problems. The ore is mined above ground and the mines occupy large areas. In the process, the mining companies often destroy farmland and deprive the population of its livelihood.

As a negative example, the report cites the West African country of Guinea, which has the world’s largest bauxite reserves at around 7.4 billion tonnes and has risen to become the world’s largest bauxite exporter in recent years:

According to a 2019 government study, bauxite mining will destroy 858 square kilometres of agricultural land in Guinea over the next 20 years. In the process, 4700 square kilometres of natural habitat would be destroyed. This will hit the inhabitants of the affected areas hard, because according to HRW, about 80 percent of them live from agriculture. Compensation is too low.

In Australia, vast tracts of land belonging to indigenous peoples have already fallen victim to decades of bauxite mining. According to the report, many of them are still fighting for adequate compensation.

Polluted water and air

Rivers and lakes would also be negatively affected by mining. Vegetation is removed and erosion occurs. Red mud, which is produced during the refining of bauxite, pollutes water bodies that communities rely on for drinking water and irrigation.
In the Brazilian state of Pará, a non-governmental organisation representing more than 11,000 people is suing a bauxite mine, a refinery and an aluminium smelter owned by Norsk Hydro. The company is accused of polluting waters in the Amazon basin.

Another side effect of aluminium production is massive greenhouse gas emissions: The raw material has to be refined and smelted at great energy expense. This is mainly done in plants in China. In 2018, these plants covered a good 90 percent of their energy needs from coal-fired power plants. This is another reason why aluminium production produces a particularly high level of emissions: According to the report, one billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent are emitted annually – that is about two percent of the total annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

More electric cars, more aluminium

Aluminium can be used to make cars lighter and thus more energy-efficient. Today, 18 per cent of global production goes to car manufacturers. The International Aluminium Institute (IAI) expects the industry’s consumption to double by 2050.

Aluminium is easy and energy-efficient to recycle; the process requires only one-tenth as much energy as the production of new material. Nevertheless, the automotive industry currently uses 58 per cent newly produced aluminium. The IAI expects this share to remain at 45 percent in 2050.

The European Aluminium Association sees the transition to electric mobility as the reason for the increased demand in the future. The lighter an electric car is, the greater its range. Economic consultancies assume that 12 million electric cars will be sold worldwide in 2025, and as many as 21 million in 2030.

The manufacturers are moving

The authors accuse car manufacturers that the negative impacts of aluminium production are still a “blind spot” for the industry. None of the companies interviewed had analysed their aluminium supply chains to understand the human rights risks therein. “Instead, car companies have prioritised supply chain due diligence on other materials that are key to electric vehicles, such as cobalt […],” the report says.

HRW and IDI call on companies to take more responsibility, to include binding human rights and environmental standards in their procurement contracts and to demand the same from their suppliers. Supply chains should be fully mapped and this information should be publicly available. This would allow communities and NGOs to share information on human rights risks and independent bodies to verify the information.

“They [car manufacturers] should use their ever-increasing buying power to protect the communities whose land and environment are being damaged by the aluminium industry,” says Jim Wormington, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Although the manufacturers Audi, BMW and Daimler encourage their aluminium suppliers to join the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI) certification programme, this step is not enough. The programme audits mines, refineries and smelters for compliance with human rights and environmental standards. “However, ASI’s human rights standards are not sophisticated enough and do not provide specific criteria to assess how well companies are responding to important human rights issues, such as the resettlement of communities displaced by mining,” Human Rights Watch criticises. The programme needs more transparency in the results and needs to better involve communities in the review process.

On the other hand, the authors give a positive assessment of a project by “Drive Sustainability”, an alliance of eleven automobile companies. The initiative launched a project in May to assess the human rights risks associated with aluminium production and nine other raw materials. In January, they contacted the aluminium producers’ association, the Aluminum Association, in this regard and expressed their concern about the situation in Guinea.

“Drive Sustainability” became active after Human Rights Watch and Inclusive Development International contacted the companies about the problems of aluminium production. (hcz)

Smartphones of journalists and opposition members spied on worldwide

Created at 21. July 2021, 12:48 | Category: News

Journalists and human rights activists worldwide are alleged to have been spied on with the Pegasus spy software. Non-governmental organisations are calling for a moratorium on the export of surveillance technology.

Pegasus infests Smartphones
For years, the NSO software Pegasus has been associated with human rights violations. (Source: Unsplash)

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According to media reports, the Pegasus surveillance software of the Israeli company NSO has been used to spy on even more opposition figures and journalists than previously known. Traces of the spyware have been found on 37 smartphones of media workers, human rights activists and their relatives as well as business people. This was reported by an international consortium of journalists in cooperation with the organisations Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. They had analysed a data set with more than 50,000 telephone numbers, which had apparently been selected by Pegasus users as potential spying targets.

Among others, NDR, WDR, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Die Zeit, The Guardian and several international media are involved in the research, which is known as the “Pegasus Project”.

According to the report, the list of telephone numbers includes entries from 2016 to 2021 from at least ten of the company’s customers. According to its own information, NSO only sells its surveillance technology to government agencies.

The journalists were able to assign thousands of telephone numbers to specific persons, including heads of state and government. In addition, the numbers of more than 180 journalists were on the list, including the editor-in-chief of the British Financial Times, editors of the French media Le Monde, Mediapart and Le Canard Enchainé, as well as from Hungary and Azerbaijan. Government critics in India and a Mexican journalist killed in 2017 are also on the list.

IT experts from the Amnesty International Security Lab were able to forensically examine the iPhones of 44 people on the list and detect traces of Pegasus in 37 cases. The Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto has verified the method. On some smartphones, the Trojan is said to have been active until July of this year.

Journalists in Hungary, Azerbaijan and France

The victims are said to include several investigative journalists from Hungary. A former NSO employee confirmed to the media involved in the research that Hungary was or still is one of NSO’s customers. It is unclear, however, which specific agency is behind these wiretaps.

In Azerbaijan, several journalists critical of the government are also said to have been monitored. In addition, the mobile phones of two journalists from the French online newspaper Mediapart were attacked with Pegasus between 2019 and 2020. This was allegedly done by Moroccan secret services.

The fiancée of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018, was also found to have been monitored with Pegasus: Her smartphone was infected with Pegasus four days after the murder. Khashoggi was also allegedly spied on using the software before he was murdered.

Pegasus turns smartphones into bugs

If the Pegasus Trojan is installed on a phone, attackers can, for example, switch on the microphone unnoticed in order to record conversations. In addition, phone calls can be listened to, chats can be read and pictures can be taken. The spy programme is installed remotely by attackers. This is even said to be possible without the victims having to click on a link or become active in any other way: The attackers send a prepared message that is not displayed on the device and automatically downloads and activates the spy software.

Clarification demanded

In a statement on Sunday, NSO spoke of “false accusations and misleading allegations” with regard to the research. There was “no factual basis” for the allegations. The company’s software was also “in no way connected to the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi”. As in the past, NSO asserted that Pegasus is “sold exclusively to law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives by preventing crime and acts of terrorism”.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, on the other hand, said: “The Pegasus project reveals that NSO’s spyware is a weapon of choice for repressive governments seeking to silence journalists, attack activists and suppress dissent, putting countless lives at risk.” While the company claims that the software is only used for legitimate criminal investigations, it is clear that the technology enables systematic abuse, he said.

France’s government spokesman Gabriel Attal reacted indignantly to the reports. “This is of course an extremely shocking state of affairs,” he told Franceinfo on Monday and announced investigations. In Hungary, opposition politicians and a journalists’ association are also pushing for immediate clarification. Meanwhile, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has rejected accusations that his country has used Pegasus to monitor journalists and opposition members. He said the IH secret service was prepared to provide information to the Hungarian parliament’s security committee.

The German Federation of Journalists (DJV) is also demanding information from German security authorities and secret services on whether the Pegasus spying software was used against German journalists. The DJV federal chair Frank Überall spoke of (in German) an “unprecedented surveillance scandal”.

The organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also expressed shock (in German) at the large number of states that are said to have monitored media workers. RSF’s German director Christian Mihr demanded: “The revelations of the Pegasus project must be a wake-up call: The international community must now put a stop to the global trade in surveillance technology. Proposals for binding export rules have been on the table for years and must finally be implemented.” Amnesty International also called for an immediate moratorium on the export, sale and use of surveillance technologies.

Repeated human rights violations

The Pegasus software has been criticised for years in connection with human rights violations: for example, as recently as December 2020, security researchers at Citizen Lab revealed that Pegasus had been used to spy on the mobile phones of 36 employees of the news channel Al Jazeera (in German). According to the investigation, the attackers had connections to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

RSF as well as other organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had last accused NSO in May (in German) of not adhering to human rights standards despite promises to do so. (dpa / js)

Hong Kong: Google, Facebook & Co. threaten to withdraw

Created at 14. July 2021, 16:36 | Category: News

International internet corporations are warning Hong Kong not to further restrict freedom of expression. As a last resort, they would withdraw from the region.

Hong Kong
Repression is on the rise in Hong Kong: opposition members are arrested, newspapers are closed and social networks are censored. (Source: IMAGO / NurPhoto)

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A union of companies including Google, Twitter and Facebook warns of a withdrawal of the internet giants and their services from Hong Kong if data protection regulations are tightened as planned. The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) criticises a current bill as too vague and disproportionate, according to a letter to Hong Kong’s Data Protection Commissioner Ada Chung Lai-ling, which has been available on the AIC website since Tuesday.

The Hong Kong government allegedly wants to fight doxxing with the controversial bill. Doxxing is the practice of collecting and publishing personal data on the internet. For example, to harm someone personally, to expose them publicly or to identify them. The new law stipulates penalties of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars, the equivalent of about 109,000 euros, and up to five years in prison.
During the 2019 protests, opposition members had disclosed personal data of (sometimes violent) police officers or their families. This led to threats. The law could be passed this month by the, not freely elected, Hong Kong parliament.

Law with oppressive potential

The companies’ letter states that the proposed law is too broad, thereby jeopardising freedom of expression. It is also “inappropriate and unnecessary”, for example, to prosecute local employees if their employers, who are based abroad, do not remove content from their platforms after being asked to do so by the authorities. This is “not in line with global norms and trends and tort law in general”. Such sanctions against individuals are reserved for those who “actively and intentionally participate in and direct activities that demonstrably cause physical harm”. The only way for technology companies to avoid these penalties is to stop investing and providing services in Hong Kong.

AIC shares the government’s “serious concern” about doxxing, but stressed that laws against it “must be built on the principles of necessity and proportionality”. The bill lacks a definition of doxxing, which creates a “problematic ambiguity”. In general, there is “no universally accepted or recognised definition of doxxing”. It rightly raises concerns that the term is being “overly broadly interpreted”.

Addendum to the “National Security Law”

The debate unfolds against the backdrop of growing restrictions (in German) on political freedoms in China’s special administrative region. The Chinese leadership had already enacted the controversial “National Security” law a year ago, which targets activities that Beijing considers subversive, separatist, terrorist or conspiratorial. Since then, the authorities have been targeting the democracy movement in the former British crown colony.

Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, Twitter and Telegram had announced in response to the security law that they would no longer answer requests for user data from Hong Kong authorities until further notice. Following this, the video platform TikTok withdrew from the Hong Kong market. However, the censored Chinese version Douyin, which is available in the communist People’s Republic, continues to operate in Hong Kong.

Target: Opposition

Government leader Carrie Lam played down the current concerns. Every new law causes a stir, as did last year’s security law. But concerns will dissipate over time, she was quoted as saying by RTHK. However, from the point of view of critics, the concerns about the security law at the time have since been confirmed: it was clearly aimed at the opposition. It was only at the end of June that Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily (in German), had to surrender under pressure from authorities.

The AIC warned that in the future even non-malicious dissemination of information online could be considered unlawful. The law could also be applied if, for example, someone reports incidents to the media involving personal information.

In the discussion, legal experts pointed out that photos of a person or a police officer taken in public space could be considered personal information worthy of protection, the dissemination of which on social media would then be illegal. More specifically, this could mean anything with a reference to a person could be considered personal information. (dpa / hcz)

22 newspapers worldwide forced to close in the past few years

Created at 01. July 2021, 15:29 | Category: News

Last week, the pro-opposition newspaper Apple Daily in Hong Kong was forced to shut down. Reporters Without Borders now reminds us of numerous other media outlets that have been silenced over the past five years.

Apple Daily's last issue
Repressive governments around the world put pressure on free media by freezing assets or revoking licences. (Source: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire)

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At least 22 dissident media outlets worldwide have had to shut down their operations in the past five years. This is according to the organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF). They were forced to give up due to economic pressure or legal harassment.

The most recent example: the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily (in German) from Hong Kong. Its last issue was published last week. The daily, which was founded 26 years ago and has a circulation of around 80,000, was accused of alleged violations of the controversial Hong Kong Security Law. As a result, police raided the newspaper’s headquarters on 17 June and arrested five executives. The newspaper’s assets were also frozen. As a result, the newspaper’s parent company, Next Digital, could no longer pay salaries and had to shut down operations.

A similar fate befell Akhbar Al Youm, Morocco’s last independent Arabic-language daily newspaper. The dissident medium was founded by Taoufik Bouachrine in 2009. RSF reports that the paper was barred from any state advertising after its founder was arrested in 2018. It also received no state aid during the Corona pandemic and eventually ceased operations in March 2021.

In September 2017, the English-language newspaper Cambodia Daily in Cambodia had to give up in the face of financial pressure. The government had demanded a retroactive tax payment amounting to the equivalent of about 5.3 million euros with the deadline set at about one month. The government had ignored requests by the newspaper for a proper tax audit. According to RSF, Cambodia Daily had reported independently for 24 years.

Laws against free media

Reporters Without Borders also criticises the legal actions taken against newspapers in some countries. Governments would use arbitrary and vaguely worded laws to shut down critical media.

For example, journalists who receive money from abroad are considered “foreign agents” in Russia. The news website VTimes had to capitulate in June after it was put on the list of “foreign agents” – it had only been founded the year before. Co-founder Aleksandr Gubski had told the organisation in June that the website had been put on the list because its administrator lived in the Netherlands. As a result, the news site had lost its advertisers as well as many of its news sources.

After the coup attempt in 2016, several media outlets were also banned in Turkey, including the daily newspapers Zaman, Taraf and the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgür Gündem. In addition, members of the media have been charged and imprisoned for alleged “membership in a terrorist organisation”. Currently, several journalists in Turkey are accused of offences that fall under the anti-terror law.

After the coup in February, the military junta in Myanmar suspended the licences of several daily newspapers, including 7 Day News and Eleven. Other independent newspapers such as the Standard Times were censored or faced paper shortages. Nowadays, there are no independent newspapers left to buy in Myanmar.

Impact on the right to information

RSF General Secretary Christophe Deloire criticised that in addition to violence against journalists, methodical action against newspapers is now common in many countries. “The death of a newspaper in another country triggers less emotion than the death of a human being, so it often goes unnoticed by the international public. Someone who doesn’t look closely might assume that the newspaper was the victim of mismanagement or declining public interest.” However, he said, newspapers are often deliberately made to give up – with terrible consequences for the right to information. The right to free access to information is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However, Reporters Without Borders also reported on newspapers that continue online: for example, El Nacional in Venezuela had to stop its print edition in 2015 after 75 years due to pressure from the government and a lack of paper. Online, however, the editorial team continues to report independently and critically of the government. (js)

EU data protection authorities call for ban on facial recognition in public spaces

Created at 23. June 2021, 16:43 | Category: News

Data protection authorities warn of the “end of anonymity” through artificial intelligence used for the automated recognition of people. Facial recognition and other biometric techniques should be banned in public spaces.

CCTV
So far, the EU Commission wants to allow the use of facial recognition systems for certain purposes. (Source: Pixabay)

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The European Data Protection Supervisor and the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) are calling for a Europe-wide ban on artificial intelligence (AI) for the automated identification of people in public spaces. In a joint statement published on Monday, they warn against encroaching on people’s fundamental rights.

The cause for this statement is a planned EU regulation (in German) on the use of artificial intelligence, which the EU Commission presented in April. While the draft includes a ban on biometric recognition processes in public spaces, it also stipulates equally far-reaching exceptions, for example in the search for victims of a criminal offence or terrorist threats.

In their statement, data protection authorities generally welcome the goal of regulating the use of AI systems within the EU. However, remote biometric identification poses “extremely high risks”. Therefore, systems for the automated recognition of human characteristics in publicly accessible spaces should generally be banned. These include, for example, facial recognition, but also systems that recognise people based on their gait, fingerprints, voice, DNA or keystroke.

No social scoring

AI systems that use biometric data to classify people into groups based on their ethnicity, gender or political or sexual orientation should also be banned. Any kind of so-called social scoring, i.e. the overall evaluation of the behaviour of individual persons, should also be prohibited. The planned EU regulation only provides for a ban on social scoring by the state.

Data protection authorities also call for a ban on artificial intelligence to recognise people’s emotions. However, there could be exceptions for this technology in certain areas, for example for medical purposes.

Encroachment on fundamental rights

EDPB Chair Andrea Jelinek and European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski warn that the use of remote biometric recognition in public spaces heralds “the end of anonymity”. Furthermore: “Applications such as live facial recognition interfere with fundamental rights and freedoms to such an extent that they may call into question the essence of these rights and freedoms.” In order to preserve these freedoms, a general ban is the necessary approach.

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection Ulrich Kelber stated (in German): “We do not want AI in the grey area of fundamental rights. I advocate for a ban on AI, because this system opposes our fundamentally free democratic understanding.”

Data protection authorities are also concerned that the planned AI Regulation will not apply to international law enforcement cooperation. The regulation also introduces a new “European Artificial Intelligence Board”, which is meant to support national authorities in legal issues. Data protection authorities criticise that the EU Commission is to take a “predominant role” in it, as the committee must be independent of any political influence.

Organisations call for ban on biometric surveillance

As recently as the beginning of June, 175 renowned organisations had called for an international ban on biometric surveillance in public places (in German). They warn that the technology undermines human rights and civil liberties – “including the right to privacy and data protection, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly and association […] and the right to equality and non-discrimination”.

Politicians and legislators should ban biometric surveillance on principle. Law enforcement agencies, border security and intelligence services should also no longer be allowed to use biometric surveillance. Furthermore, the organisations demand that no more public funds be spent on such technologies.

The European citizens’ initiative “Reclaim Your Face” (in German) also wants to achieve a Europe-wide ban on biometric surveillance. Their goal is to collect a total of one million signatures in at least seven EU countries within one year. Then the EU Commission will have to deal with the coalition’s demand. (js)