Author: Uponsil

Biden Pushes Plan to Boost Electric Bus Production

This week the Biden administration is promoting a plan to boost electric bus production, proposing $45 billion spending to reduce American-made bus emissions to zero by 2030. White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

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US Trying to Insulate Electrical Grid From Cyberattacks  

With America’s electrical infrastructure getting zapped daily by an unprecedented number of cyberattacks, the federal government is taking action to prevent a potentially crippling hack of the grid.  A 100-day plan was announced Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Department to harden security systems for the country’s electrical infrastructure and increase the ability to detect and neutralize cyber threats.  “The United States faces a well-documented and increasing cyber threat from malicious actors seeking to disrupt the electricity Americans rely on to power our homes and businesses,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “It’s up to both government and industry to prevent possible harms — that’s why we’re working together to take these decisive measures so Americans can rely on a resilient, secure, and clean energy system.”  The electric industry was among those hit by recent cyberattacks and data breaches targeting Solar Winds and Microsoft Exchange software, but officials stress the timing of Tuesday’s announcement is not directly tied to those events.In this Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, photo a Microsoft computer is among items displayed at a Microsoft store in suburban Boston. Microsoft reports financial results on Jan. 29, 2020.The U.S. government has blamed Russia’s spy agency for the Solar Winds attack. Microsoft said vulnerabilities in its mail and calendar software for corporate and government data centers were primarily exploited by the so-called Hafnium group in China.  The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a non-profit regulatory authority that oversees utilities in the United States and Canada, said about 25 percent of electric utilities on the North American power grid downloaded the SolarWinds backdoor. “Given the sophisticated and constantly changing threats posed by adversaries, America’s electric companies remain focused on securing the industrial control systems that operate the North American energy grid,” said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies.  Kuhn said the new initiative is appreciated and indicates “the Biden administration is making cybersecurity for operations a high priority.” Tuesday’s announcement comes after some industry criticism that funding for grid security was not included in the recent infrastructure package announced by President Joe Biden. The 100-day plan includes “aggressive but achievable milestones and will assist owners and operators as they modernize cybersecurity defenses, including enhancing detection, mitigation, and forensic capabilities,” said National Security Council Spokesperson Emily Horne in a statement.  Among the fears—that an enemy of the United States or a cybercriminal group could replicate what happened in Ukraine in 2015 when the information systems of the country’s three energy distribution companies were remotely accessed by Russia, causing 200,000 consumers to lose power. A year later in Ukraine, a power transmission station was knocked offline by Russian hackers who were able to trip circuit breakers after planting malware in the network of the national grid operator.  “The safety and security of the American people depend on the resilience of our nation’s critical infrastructure,” said Brandon Wales, acting director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security. Officials describe this effort to harden the power system against cyberattacks as a pilot project of the Biden administration before such measures are enacted for other vulnerable sectors of the country’s infrastructure.  A Government Accountability Office report issued last month warned that the U.S. grid’s distributions systems “are growing more vulnerable, in part because their industrial control systems increasingly allow remote access and connect to business networks.”  The Biden administration also is lifting a temporary ban on acquiring and installing bulk-power systems that serve critical defense systems, while the Energy Department receives industry input for a new executive order on guidelines for purchasing equipment.  Last May, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring “the unrestricted foreign supply of bulk-power system electric equipment” an “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security.” The order restricted purchases and use of such foreign equipment.   
The large, interconnected bulk electric system consists of facilities necessary for operating the power transmission network and maintaining a balance of generation and demand from second to second.  
 
Biden, in his first day in office, suspended Trump’s order for 90 days and directed the Energy Department and the Office of Management and Budget to “jointly consider whether to recommend that a replacement order be issued.” 
 

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New Technology Aims to Make Travel Safer During Pandemic

San Francisco’s International Airport and United Airlines have become the first in the U.S. to test technology that enables domestic passengers to check in and board flights with minimal contact between travelers and agents. Those behind the trial say the technology could make traveling safer during the pandemic, as VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports. 

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A Recycling Machine Sells the Idea of Consumers Doing More for the Environment

An innovative home recycling unit aims to revolutionize the world of recycling as we know it. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.Camera: Adam Greenbaum 
Producers: Julie Taboh/Adam Greenbaum  

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Apple Restores Parler Social Media to App Store

Apple will allow the self-proclaimed free speech social media app Parler back in the App Store.The news came from a letter from Apple to Colorado Republican Congressman Ken Buck and Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, who had pressed the company about its removal of Parler.Apple said it removed Parler in January because it had been used to plan the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Facebook was also used by protesters but was not removed from the App Store.In the letter, Apple said Parler had strengthened its content moderation, leading to its reinstatement. Parler had marketed itself as a social media platform with less moderation.“Apple anticipates that the updated Parler app will become available immediately upon Parler releasing it,” Timothy Powderly, Apple’s senior director for government affairs, wrote in the letter.In a tweet, Buck called Apple’s decision a “huge win for free speech.” Google also removed Parler from its app store, and Amazon kicked the company off its web-hosting platform. There was no word if either company will reinstate Parler.The companies deny they worked together to remove Parler.

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Final Ruling on Trump Facebook Ban Delayed

A final ruling on whether to overturn Facebook’s ban on former U.S. president Donald Trump will take a bit longer than anticipated, an independent oversight board said Friday.Critics of the social media company and even strong advocates of unfettered political discourse called on Facebook’s oversight board to endorse the decision to boot Trump from the platform in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.”The board’s commitment to carefully reviewing all comments has extended the case timeline,” a spokesperson told AFP.”The board will announce its decision on the case concerning former U.S. President Trump’s indefinite suspension from Facebook and Instagram in the coming weeks.”The Facebook oversight board had originally expected to have its decision by this month.Calling Trump a “clear and present danger,” scholars and civil rights advocates have urged Facebook to permanently ban the former president from the platform.Conservatives on Capitol Hill and beyond have contended that moves by Facebook and Twitter to “deplatform” Trump demonstrate political bias and inhibit free speech.An extended public comment period ended in February with more than 9,000 submissions regarding the case, according to the board.The social network itself asked the independent body to review Trump’s eviction from the online community.The oversight board has the final say on what is removed or allowed to remain on the world’s biggest social network.Trump’s access to social media platforms that he used as a megaphone during his presidency has been largely cut off since a violent mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington.

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Zuckerberg Urged to Nix Kids’ Version of Instagram

Advocates for children from around the world urged Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday to ditch plans for a version of Instagram geared toward preteens.Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Electronic Privacy Information Center were among nearly 100 groups and individuals from North America, Europe, Africa and Australia to make the plea in a letter to Zuckerberg.Instagram “exploits young people’s fear of missing out and desire for peer approval,” the letter contended.”The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and well-being,” it said, building on concerns about predators, bullies and inappropriate content.On Oct. 6, 2020, Images of instagram corporate logos are displayed online on a laptop computer.Instagram is exploring the launch of a version of the image-centric social network for children under 13, with parental controls.Facebook-owned Instagram, like its parent company, allows only those older than 13 to join, but verifying age on the internet makes it challenging to catch all rule breakers.”The reality is that kids are online,” Instagram spokeswoman Stephanie Otway said in response to an AFP inquiry.”They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate.”Facebook is working with child development and mental health experts to prioritize safety and privacy, according to Otway.Instagram, which has more than a billion users, recently unveiled technology aimed at preventing underage children from creating accounts and at blocking adults from contacting young users they don’t know.The platform is also looking at ways to make it more difficult for adults who have been exhibiting “potentially suspicious behavior” to interact with teens.The children’s advocates were dubious about the proposed youth version.”Facebook’s long track record of exploiting young people and putting them at risk makes the company particularly unsuitable as the custodian of a photo sharing and social messaging site for children,” their letter said.”In short, an Instagram site for kids will subject young children to a number of serious risks and will offer few benefits for families.” 

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South African Telecom App Helps Gender-Based Violence Survivors

South African mobile communications company Vodacom South Africa, with British parent company Vodafone and charity Hestia, has launched a free mobile phone application to support targets of gender-based violence, which has soared during the coronavirus pandemic.  The application, “Bright Sky,” provides information for people to identify gender-based violence and get counseling and emergency help. Franco Puglisi reports from Johannesburg.Producer: Rod James. Camera: Franco Puglisi. 

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Computerized Map Predicts Next COVID-19 Outbreak

Predicting whether an outbreak is likely to happen is now possible with the COVID-19 Outbreak Detection Tool, a map that shows the coming hotspots for the disease, if accurate data is available.  VOA’s Elizabeth Lee has the details.Producer: Elizabeth Lee

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Texas Teens Win Top Honors in International Competition    

The international Future City Competition recently announced its 2021 winners in the first ever all-virtual event. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more.

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