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US Regulator Bans AI-Generated Voices in Robocalls

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 15:08
Washington — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Thursday outlawed robocalls that contain artificial intelligence-generated voices, citing their capacity to misinform voters. The ruling, which takes effect immediately, targets robocalls made with AI voice-cloning tools under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The 1991 law regulates junk calls that use artificial and prerecorded voice messages. “Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities, and misinform voters. We’re putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement announcing the unanimous decision. The ruling will give state attorneys general new tools to target perpetrators behind these calls “and ensure the public is protected from fraud and misinformation,” Rosenworcel said in the statement. The ruling comes after AI-generated robocalls that impersonated President Joe Biden sought to discourage people from voting in the New Hampshire primary election last month. The New Hampshire attorney general announced this week that the calls were traced to companies in Texas. “We need to protect voters from deepfake AI technology disenfranchising them or manipulating their thought processes,” Theresa Payton, CEO of cybersecurity company Fortalice Solutions, told VOA. “This is a step in the right direction, and I would like to see more debate and open discussion on what the guard rails for the usage of this technology should be,” added Payton, who previously served as the White House’s Chief Information Officer during the George W. Bush administration. Under the new regulation, the FCC can fine companies that use AI voices in their calls or block the service providers that carry the calls. The agency has previously used the law to hold robocallers accountable for election interference, including imposing a $5 million fine on two conservative hoaxers who used robocalls to try to reduce Black voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election. Deepfake AI technology has also been used in attempts to influence voters around the world. Just days before elections in Slovakia in September 2023, for instance, a deepfake audio circulated online imitating a politician who appeared to be discussing how to rig the election. The FCC had been considering banning AI voices in robocalls due to a rise it saw in these types of calls. In January, a bipartisan group of 26 state attorneys general urged the FCC to go ahead with a ruling. While the ruling is a positive development, according to Payton, she added that there still may be the threat of foreign forces using AI-generated robocalls in attempts to influence elections. “This is going to be helpful as it relates to American political operatives, but I am not clear how this would be enforced against non-Americans that may choose to abuse this technology and interfere in our political process,” she said.

NASA, SpaceX Join Forces to Study Earth's Environment

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 15:02
Two titans of space travel team up to study our planet's health. Plus, a Russian cosmonaut breaks the record for the most time in space, and sky gazers in North America will get a treat in coming months. VOA's Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 15:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

UN Committee Accuses Russia of Violating Ukrainian Child Rights

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 14:47
GENEVA — A U.N. watchdog group Thursday accused Russia of violating the rights of Ukrainian children in both Russian occupied territories in Ukraine and in Russia. The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, a body of 18 independent experts that monitors implementation of the convention, raised many concerns about the killings and injuries of hundreds of children by the indiscriminate use of explosive devices by Russia in Ukraine. The committee also strongly criticized the forcible transfer and deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to the Russian Federation "in violation of rights under the convention." Russia was one of six states parties whose record came under review during the committee's latest three-week session. The states parties are the countries that ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In presenting its major findings, committee Vice Chair Bragi Gudbrandsson highlighted "measures that Russia has taken, including the presidential decree from January 2024 providing Russian citizenship to forcibly transferred or deported children in a simplified procedure." He said the committee also was concerned about "evidence that suggests that children are deprived of their Ukrainian nationality in violation of the rights of a child." According to the Ukrainian government, at least 20,000 children have been forcibly deported to Russia. Gudbrandsson said several reliable sources have confirmed the number. "However, Russia denied this," he said. "They submitted information that over 700,000 children had fled to Russia, to safety, as they defined it." He said the committee assessed the information and evidence that was presented and "it is our conclusion that there is evidence of forceful transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia." "We cannot identify the number of these children, but we know there are many and we can support this with the actual measures Russia has taken to simplify procedures to acquire Russian citizenship and to place Ukrainian children with Russian families," he said. Russia stands accused of trying to erase Ukraine's cultural and national identity, a charge that the committee corroborates. Committee Chair Ann Skelton told journalists in Geneva that the Russian delegation denied that Ukrainian children were being adopted. It said that the children were being fostered by Russian families. "On the other hand, they also acknowledged that there were a lot of children who were being given Russian citizenship, which would also in itself mean that these children were losing their identity and were being given a Russian identity. We consider it to be a very big risk for the future — these children who are being indoctrinated." To ensure that no child is deprived of their Ukrainian nationality in violation of their rights under the convention, the committee has asked the Russian delegation to provide information about the precise number of children taken from Ukraine and about the whereabouts of each child. Gudbrandsson said that was important so "parents and other legal representatives can track them, including through identification of such children … so the children can be returned to their families as soon as possible." The committee says it has received worrying reports of sexual violence, arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture of children by the Russian authorities in the occupied Ukrainian territory. The human rights experts say they also are seriously concerned about reports of violations of children's rights in Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, including "arbitrary arrests of children by Russian law enforcement officers, including for participation in peaceful assemblies." In both instances, the committee is calling on Russian authorities to investigate the crimes against children and to punish the perpetrators. In his concluding remarks, committee Vice Chair Gudbrandsson urged the state party "to cease military operations in Ukraine without delay, to avoid further devastating consequences for children in Ukraine, Russia, and all over the world." In response, Alexey Vovchenko, deputy minister of labor and social protection of the Russian Federation and head of the delegation, said he valued the work of the committee and that "The state would be attentive to all the recommendations made by the committee." "However, the Russian Federation would not consider itself obliged to fulfill recommendations which were not aimed at fulfilling the rights of children in Russia," he said, "but were biased and sought to interfere in the affairs of the sovereign state."

Tucker Carlson Visit Gets Intense Coverage by Russian Media

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 14:42
News that American media personality Tucker Carlson was in Russia to interview President Vladimir Putin has received intense news coverage in Russia. Some have described it as a frenzy, one that’s giving insight into how the Russian state handles foreign and domestic journalists. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from VOA' Moscow bureau.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 14:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Pakistanis Vote Amid Mistrust in Electoral Process

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 13:52
Pakistanis voted Thursday for provincial and national assemblies. This was only the 12th general election in the country’s 76-year history. VOA’s Pakistan bureau chief Sarah Zaman spoke with voters in Lahore, who expressed a mix of disappointment and hope as the country reels from political and economic instability amid mistrust in the electoral process. Camera: Wajid Asad. Video editor: Ali Hashmi.

Netanyahu Says No to Deal

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 13:35
Blinken says there is still room to negotiate after Netanyahu says the deal to release hostages and stop the fighting is not enough. It’s election day in Pakistan, we get an update from Islamabad. And from Kyiv, we’ll find out about the latest changes to the military’s leadership.

AI Deepfakes Pose Threat to Elections Worldwide

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 13:26
Four billion people worldwide have voted or are scheduled to do so in national elections through 2024. While the candidates and issues differ in each country, one common concern is the use of generative artificial intelligence in disinformation campaigns. VOA’s Valdya Baraputri has the story.

Reactions Mixed After Zimbabwe Moves to Abolish Death Penalty

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 13:26
Harare, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe's Cabinet decision to abolish the death penalty, announced on Wednesday, is being hailed by human rights advocates, but not all Zimbabweans are in favor of the move. Amnesty International — one of the rights groups which has pushed for the abolition of capital punishment in Zimbabwe — welcomed the announcement this week by Harare.  "Zimbabwe has taken the right step towards ending this abhorrent and inhuman form of punishment that has no place in today's justice system," said Roselina Muzerengi, campaigns coordinator at Amnesty International in Zimbabwe. "Now that the Cabinet has given its nod, Parliament must ensure the death penalty is truly abolished by voting to pass legislation that will make this a reality. We are happy that the abolition debate is gaining momentum. So, as an organization, we are waiting to see the response by the Parliament of Zimbabwe." In a message via WhatsApp, U.N. Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor, who reports and advises on the situation of human rights advocates, also expressed her support for the move. "I am delighted that Zimbabwe has decided to abolish the death penalty. The death penalty is always wrong. It has never been shown to be a deterrent and many innocent people around the world have been executed," Lawlor said. But not everyone is happy with the decision, given that Zimbabwe's crime rate is rising as the economy continues to decline.  A senator for the ruling Zanu-PF party, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing her position, said she is against abolition of the death penalty. "As a people, as a nation, and are we not perpetuating wanton killing? Life is precious. Life imprisonment in itself is torture," she said. "We have a parole system, which is there in place, that can review some of these judgments [life imprisonment]. Peace and closure to the affected families can only be achieved if they know that the perpetrator is made the same fate as their relatives." Zimbabwe's information minister, Jenfan Muswere, this week told reporters that the move to abolish the death penalty was made after countrywide consultations. "The circumstances attracting death penalty options include where murder has been committed against a prison officer, police officer, a minor or a pregnant woman, or it is committed in the commission of other serious crimes. Or where there is pre-meditation," Muswere said. "In view of the need to retain the deterrent element in sentencing murderers, it is expected that the new law will impose lengthy sentences without violating the right to life." Some Zimbabweans, such as Tinei Mukuri, want the death sentence to remain in the statute books. "There are circumstances when it is really aggravated, it's gruesome, it's pure cruelty when someone kills someone. ... And then we say that person needs to be rehabilitated, spending the rest of his time in jail surviving on taxpayers' money, when the best would be just to also to face the same death that would have been inflicted on other people," Mukuri said. Vincent Mazilankatha holds a similar view. "It's very sad that our government decided to abolish death penalty when there is a rise of premeditated murder cases here in Zimbabwe," Mazilankatha said. "People are killing each other, people are killing some other people with impunity. Some of them are walking scot free. Parliament is expected to take up legislation soon that officially bans the death penalty. The bill is expected to sail to approval, as the ruling Zanu-PF party now has a two-thirds majority, and President Emmerson Mnangawa supports abolishment.  

Who Can Be US President? Here’s What the Constitution Says

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 13:15
Casting doubts on his political rivals’ eligibility to run for the U.S. presidency is one of Republican frontrunner and former President Donald Trump’s key campaign strategies. Fellow candidate Nikki Haley is the latest target of what is known as “birtherism.” VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias explains how the Constitution lays out who can run for America’s top job.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 13:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Biden Won't Seek Redactions in Report on Classified Documents

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 12:57
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden will not seek any redactions in a report by the Justice Department special counsel investigating his handling of classified documents, the White House said Thursday, clearing the way for its release.  White House Counsel's office spokesman Ian Sams said the White House had notified the Justice Department that it had completed a review of the report Thursday morning. "In keeping with his commitment to cooperation and transparency throughout this investigation, the president declined to assert privilege over any portion of the report," he said.  The yearlong investigation centered on the improper retention of classified documents by Biden from his time as a senator and as vice president. Sensitive records were found in 2022 and 2023 at his Delaware home and at a private office that he used in between his service in the Obama administration and becoming president.  It came amid a wider Justice Department investigation that has led to charges against former President Donald Trump, who is accused of unlawfully retaining highly classified documents after he left office and refusing to hand them over to federal officials when demanded.  The White House review for potential executive privilege concerns appeared to be the final hurdle before the report would be released to Congress and the public. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a letter to Congress Wednesday that he was committed to disclosing as much of the document as possible once the White House review was complete.

Activists Condemn China’s Jailing of Feminist, Increased Crackdown on Dissent

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 12:02
Taipei, Taiwan — Some activists and analysts are saying Monday’s sentencing of a prominent Chinese feminist activist to more than three years in jail shows Beijing’s increasing retaliation against those closely associated with detained activists. A court in China’s eastern province of Shandong Monday sentenced Li Qiaochu to three years and eight months on the charge of “incitement to subvert state power.” In the judgment, the court accused Li of being “deeply influenced” by detained activist Xu Zhiyong, who is Li’s boyfriend and was sentenced to 14 years in jail on the charge of “subversion of state power” last April. “This is a typical case of how someone who is closely associated with a detained activist can get into trouble for simply expressing concerns about their detained partner or friend,” Patrick Poon, a visiting researcher at the University of Tokyo, told VOA by phone.  He said the lengthy jail sentence that Li received shows the domestic environment in China has become very restrictive. “Her case shows that speaking up for other human rights defenders in China has now become a red line in the Chinese government’s eyes,” he said.   Some activists say the heavy sentence that Li received is a clear retaliation for her attempt to talk about the torture that Xu allegedly experienced in detention. “The authorities are purely retaliating against Li for exercising her basic rights and freedom of speech,” Luo Shengchun, the wife of detained human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, told VOA by phone.  Since the ruling came after a closed-door trial last month, Luo characterized the length of the jail sentence as “unjust and despicable.”  “I originally thought the authorities may consider allowing Li to go home and celebrate Chinese New Year with her family but they ended up handing her an outcome that is very serious,” she said.  Li, who was a long-time labor rights and feminist activist, has been in detention since February 2021. Although the time she has already spent in custody will count toward her sentence, Luo says she is still concerned about Li’s mental health.   Li suffers from depression and the treatment that she received during detention has caused hallucinations, Luo said.  “Her parents applied for bail 10 times but the Chinese authorities denied all of their applications,” she said, adding that Li was “in a very bad state” when her family members briefly saw her during the court proceeding on February 5.  Apart from Li, her boyfriend Xu Zhiyong and Luo’s husband, Ding Jiaxi, have both been sentenced to more than 10 years in jail for participating in a private gathering in the Chinese city of Xiamen in December 2019. Both been denied permission to meet with their lawyers or family members for several months.  “Their family members in China are facing multiple threats and the authorities continue to postpone their meetings with lawyers,” Luo told VOA. “The authorities have threatened Xu and Ding’s family members in China not to share any information about their cases with the outside world.”  Some researchers see the decision by Chinese authorities to target those associated with detained activists and deny them the right to meet with lawyers or family members as part of a broader effort to increase pressure on activists.  “In the past, the family members and friends of Chinese human rights defenders could still advocate for them, but now, these people are all facing an immense amount of pressure for trying to speak up for the detained activists,” Yaqiu Wang, research director for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at Freedom House, told VOA by phone.  In her view, the Chinese government hopes to limit the influence of detained activists by cutting off their communication with the outside world.  “When Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 12 years, many people still knew what he had achieved despite Chinese authorities’ crackdown on him,” Wang said. “But nowadays, the Chinese government is trying their best to limit the influence of activists by cutting off all communication channels.”  Apart from Li, several human rights activists in detention and their family members are still awaiting judgments from Chinese courts . Prominent human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and his wife Xu Yan were arrested by police in April on their way to meet with European diplomats. On the day Ding and Xu were sentenced to more than 10 years in jail, Yu condemned the Chinese authorities’ decision on X (Twitter at the time), and a day before his arrest, Yu wrote on Twitter, that local police “visited” him because of the tweet. As it becomes much more difficult for people in China advocate for detained human rights activists, Poon in Tokyo said it is important for outsiders to raise concerns about these cases. “The only chance for detained activists to receive better treatment in prison is if the international community or overseas activists can bring attention to their cases,” he told VOA. On the day that the court in Shandong announced judgment on Li’s case, the EU mission to China urged Chinese authorities to release her due to her deteriorating health conditions. “Li suffers from physical and mental problems and is in urgent need of long-term treatment,” the mission wrote on its official Weibo account.  The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment from VOA regarding Li’s sentence or concerns the EU raised on Weibo. There has been no mention of the case in state media. Since some activists continue to face government surveillance and harassment after being released from jail, Luo said she worries that Li will still face some form of house arrest after she is released later this year.  She expressed hope that outside pressure will force Chinese authorities to “respect some basic legal principles and let Li live a life free from harassment and surveillance with her parents.” 

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 12:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Chainsaw Artists Show Their Skills at Live Carving Event

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 11:57
Participants of the Extreme Chainsaw Carving Show have just a few hours to turn a cedar block of wood into a beautiful work of art. VOA’s Natasha Mozgovaya reports from Arlington, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest.

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