Zuckerberg Apologizes for Data Breach Before Congressional Testimony

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify publicly Tuesday before a group of U.S. senators after apologizing for the way his company handled data for millions of users.

He is due to appear before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Commerce Committee, and on Wednesday will go before House lawmakers.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said users “deserve to know how their information is shared and secure,” and that he wants to explore with Zuckerberg ways to balance safety with innovation.

Zuckerberg met privately with lawmakers in Washington on Monday and released written testimony saying the social media network should have done more to prevent itself and the data of its members from being misused.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry,” Zuckerberg said.Zuckerberg was called to testify after news broke last month that personal data of millions of Facebook users had been harvested without their knowledge by Cambridge Analytica, a British voter profiling company that U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign hired to target likely supporters in 2016.

WATCH:  Video report on Facebook Data Breach

Cambridge Analytica connection

Prior to 2016, Facebook allowed a British researcher to create an app on Facebook on which about 200,000 users divulged personal information that was subsequently shared with Cambridge Analytica. The number of affected Facebook users multiplied exponentially because the app also collected data about friends, relatives and acquaintances of everyone who installed it.

 

Cambridge Analytica said it had data for 30 million of Facebook’s 2.2 billion users.

On Capitol Hill, U.S. lawmakers signaled they want action, not just contrition, from social media executives.

 

“If we don’t rein in the misuse of social media, none of us are going to have any privacy anymore,” the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, Bill Nelson of Florida, told reporters after meeting privately with Zuckerberg Monday.

 

Meanwhile, Facebook announced it is starting to notify tens of millions of users, most of them in the United States, whose personal data may have been harvested by Cambridge Analytica.

New cyber firewalls

The social media giant is also empowering all its users to shut off third-party access to their apps and is setting up cyber “firewalls” to ensure that users’ data is not unwittingly transmitted by others in their social network.

 

For years, Congress took a largely “hands-off” approach to regulating the internet. Some analysts believe that is about to change after the Facebook data breach, as well as a cascade of revelations about Russian cyber-meddling.

 

“At this point in time, it’s really up to Congress and the federal agencies to step up and take some responsibility for protecting privacy, for regulating Facebook as a commercial service which it clearly is,” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, told VOA. “We’ve gone for many years in the United States believing that self-regulation could work — that Facebook and the other tech giants could police themselves, but I think very few people still believe that.”

 

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Heavy Facebook Use Exposed Southeast Asia to Breaches of Personal Data

Facebook users in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, were especially exposed to recent data privacy breaches due to high user numbers and the popularity of an app at the core of the problem, analysts believe.

According to Facebook figures, the data of 1.175 million users in the Philippines may have been “improperly shared” with London-based voter profiling firm Cambridge Analytica. That estimate is the second highest, single-country total after the United States. Indonesia ranks third at around 1.1 million people exposed to data breaches. Vietnam was ninth with 427,000.

Filipinos had also enjoyed a personality quiz app that spread fast due to the sharing of results, said Renato Reyes, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabaya alliance of social causes in Manila. The app is suspected as a source of Cambridge Analytica data.

In Vietnam, where the media outlet VnExpress International estimates 64 million of the country’s 92 million people use Facebook, younger people like the outlet to show off, technology specialists say. Indonesians use it to communicate for free across their 13,000 islands, some impoverished.

The Silicon Valley social media giant said that beginning April 9 it would add a News Feed link for users to see what information they have shared on which apps.

“I think we are in a position to demand an explanation directly from the officials at Facebook considering that we are the second highest country in net exposure,” Reyes said.

Why Southeast Asia?

Data from about 87 million users worldwide may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, Facebook says.

Southeast Asia faced exposure because a rise in the number of “affordable” mobile phones has expanded consumption of news on social media, said Athina Karatzogianni, associate professor in media, communication and sociology at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.

Total smartphone shipments in emerging Southeast Asia came to about 100 million last year, according to the market research firm IDC.

In parts of the subcontinent, people rely on Facebook as an easy, free means to share news and images with family or friends across long distances, said Lam Nguyen, country manager with IDC.

App sharing in the Philippines

Filipinos worry that Cambridge Analytica’s parent company crunched the results of the personality quiz app to grasp voter psychology for targeted advertising on behalf of political campaigns, Reyes said. It may have taken the Philippine 2016 election as a “laboratory” for the U.S. presidential race later that year, he said.

Cambridge Analytica says independent research contractor GSR “licensed data” from no more than 30 million users and that no information was used for the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The organization took legal action against GSR.

“The use of personal data in order to influence the outcome of elections is really a cause for concern,” Reyes said.

The Philippine National Privacy Commission has required Facebook to give updates on controlling against any further risk, the commission said Friday. Any data leaked would have arisen from use of University of Cambridge academic psychologist Aleksandr Kogan’s personality quiz app, it said.

Facebook rage in Vietnam

In Vietnam, Facebook took off about 11 years ago along with emerging wealth, including access to other foreign goods and services.

A lot of people use Facebook to show off travel photos, said Phuong Hong, communications director with an app developer in Ho Chi Minh City. Such elaborate public posting exposes users to information harvesting, she said.

“In Vietnam, people (are) more open and they don’t as much realize the impact if they publish all their information on social channels,” she said.

“Just some highly well educated people who already know about the after effects will try to limit it by themselves, but most of young, from 14 to 25, and even older people 25 to 40, they just go to that site, create an account and just follow to what Facebook asks for to fill in the information,” she added.

Facebook users in Vietnam may remember a breach four years ago that let phone numbers and e-mails find their way to marketers, Nguyen said.

“When the (Cambridge Analytica) story came to light, I think a lot of Facebook users here in Vietnam were kind of like ah, OK, so now it comes to light, but we already know our personal data have been breached a couple of years ago already,” he said.

Vietnam’s national defense and diplomatic officials met last week to discuss “internet security” with an eye toward Facebook, VnExpress International said.

Indonesia, Facebook discuss ‘abuse’

In Indonesia, the communications minister met the Indonesian Facebook public policy head April 5 to discuss any “abuse” of user data, the Ministry of Communication and Informatics said on its website.

The number of Indonesian Facebook users had reached 130 million in January, 6 percent of the world total.

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China’s Xi Pledges to Cut Auto Tariffs, Press Ahead With Reforms

China’s President Xi Jinping did not mention U.S. President Donald Trump by name or speak directly about rising trade frictions with Washington during a closely watched speech at the Boao Forum — China’s version of Davos for Asia.

But the pledges Xi made to press forward with economic reforms had everything to do with the trade dispute and President Trump’s threats to levy heavy tariffs on Chinese goods.

In his speech, Xi mentioned the phrase “opening up” 42 times. One of the key messages of his speech was that China was open for business. It was also an effort, one analyst said, to highlight a contrast between Beijing’s approach and Washington.

“I want to clearly tell everyone, China’s door for opening will not close, but will only open wider,” Xi said. “Cold war mentality and zero sum game are more and more old-fashioned and outdated. Isolationism will only hit walls.”

Car imports

In his speech, Xi said China would launch a number of landmark measures this year, including cutting tariffs on car imports, one key trade barrier President Trump has mentioned repeatedly. China places a 25 percent tariff on automobile imports, while Chinese vehicles exported to the United States are taxed by two and half percent.

Xi re-stated a pledge to open up China’s financial sector — easing restrictions — and accelerate the opening up of the insurance industry.

He also said China would restructure its State Intellectual Property Office this year to step up law enforcement, raise fines for violations and strengthen legal protections.

Xi did not give a specific timeframe, but said the reforms would take place “sooner rather than later, faster rather than slower.”

Some analysts said the pledges were nothing new and unlikely to amount to the type of concessions that the Trump administration is expecting. Others, however, said there might be enough there to at least help the two move toward sitting down to talk.

“President Xi gave the outline and the many details and the concrete measures we are still waiting to see what policies will come up in the following days,” said Zhang Yifan, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But he mentioned balanced trade, that means that they will address the trade surplus issue, not just with the U.S., but with all other countries.”

The United States has proposed placing tariffs on about 1,300 Chinese imports, which amounts to about $50 billion in trade. Late last week, even as he disagreed with the characterization of the dispute as a trade war, President Trump upped the stakes by asking for $100 billion more in tariffs.

China has responded with a list of its own, some 106 products that target among other things agricultural production in areas where political support for Trump was strong in the 2016 elections.

Beijing has already put a 25 percent tariff in place on pork products, in response to Trump’s earlier tariffs on steel and aluminum. And if Beijing’s recently announced tariffs go forward, soybean imports from the United States could also face a 25 percent tariff.

The impact that could have on American farmers is already raising concerns. So much so that the White House announced Monday it is drafting up a plan to protect farmers and make sure they don’t bear the brunt of Chinese retaliation.

That is why it is hard to predict just how far Xi’s remarks may go in helping the two sides resolve their differences, said Oliver Rui, a professor of international finance and accounting at the China Europe International Business School.

“The issue is very complicated. It is not just the trade imbalances between the two countries, it is also related to political issues. The mid-term elections will definitely play a role here, the attitude of the EU will also play a role here,” Rui said.

Several days ago the White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that the Trump administration is building a “coalition of the willing” to jointly take on China over its trade practices. Kudlow has not yet said which countries might be a part of that grouping, but the European Union is one likely partner.

Concern about trade practices

The United States is not the only country concerned about China’s trade practices and increasingly analysts who have been arguing against tariffs have noted that working with other countries could have an even stronger impact.

That is something that President Xi appeared to be hinting at in his speech and that might be a point of concern for Beijing.

“We should pursue the path of dialogue, not conflict, building partnerships and not alliances as we forge new paths in relations between countries,” Xi said.

This story was written by VOA’s William Ide in Beijing. Joyce Huang contributed.

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China’s Xi Pledges to Cut Auto Tariffs, Press Ahead With Reforms

China’s President Xi Jinping did not mention U.S. President Donald Trump by name or speak directly about rising trade frictions with Washington during a closely watched speech at the Boao Forum — China’s version of Davos for Asia.

But the pledges Xi made to press forward with economic reforms had everything to do with the trade dispute and President Trump’s threats to levy heavy tariffs on Chinese goods.

In his speech, Xi mentioned the phrase “opening up” 42 times. One of the key messages of his speech was that China was open for business. It was also an effort, one analyst said, to highlight a contrast between Beijing’s approach and Washington.

“I want to clearly tell everyone, China’s door for opening will not close, but will only open wider,” Xi said. “Cold war mentality and zero sum game are more and more old-fashioned and outdated. Isolationism will only hit walls.”

Car imports

In his speech, Xi said China would launch a number of landmark measures this year, including cutting tariffs on car imports, one key trade barrier President Trump has mentioned repeatedly. China places a 25 percent tariff on automobile imports, while Chinese vehicles exported to the United States are taxed by two and half percent.

Xi re-stated a pledge to open up China’s financial sector — easing restrictions — and accelerate the opening up of the insurance industry.

He also said China would restructure its State Intellectual Property Office this year to step up law enforcement, raise fines for violations and strengthen legal protections.

Xi did not give a specific timeframe, but said the reforms would take place “sooner rather than later, faster rather than slower.”

Some analysts said the pledges were nothing new and unlikely to amount to the type of concessions that the Trump administration is expecting. Others, however, said there might be enough there to at least help the two move toward sitting down to talk.

“President Xi gave the outline and the many details and the concrete measures we are still waiting to see what policies will come up in the following days,” said Zhang Yifan, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But he mentioned balanced trade, that means that they will address the trade surplus issue, not just with the U.S., but with all other countries.”

The United States has proposed placing tariffs on about 1,300 Chinese imports, which amounts to about $50 billion in trade. Late last week, even as he disagreed with the characterization of the dispute as a trade war, President Trump upped the stakes by asking for $100 billion more in tariffs.

China has responded with a list of its own, some 106 products that target among other things agricultural production in areas where political support for Trump was strong in the 2016 elections.

Beijing has already put a 25 percent tariff in place on pork products, in response to Trump’s earlier tariffs on steel and aluminum. And if Beijing’s recently announced tariffs go forward, soybean imports from the United States could also face a 25 percent tariff.

The impact that could have on American farmers is already raising concerns. So much so that the White House announced Monday it is drafting up a plan to protect farmers and make sure they don’t bear the brunt of Chinese retaliation.

That is why it is hard to predict just how far Xi’s remarks may go in helping the two sides resolve their differences, said Oliver Rui, a professor of international finance and accounting at the China Europe International Business School.

“The issue is very complicated. It is not just the trade imbalances between the two countries, it is also related to political issues. The mid-term elections will definitely play a role here, the attitude of the EU will also play a role here,” Rui said.

Several days ago the White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that the Trump administration is building a “coalition of the willing” to jointly take on China over its trade practices. Kudlow has not yet said which countries might be a part of that grouping, but the European Union is one likely partner.

Concern about trade practices

The United States is not the only country concerned about China’s trade practices and increasingly analysts who have been arguing against tariffs have noted that working with other countries could have an even stronger impact.

That is something that President Xi appeared to be hinting at in his speech and that might be a point of concern for Beijing.

“We should pursue the path of dialogue, not conflict, building partnerships and not alliances as we forge new paths in relations between countries,” Xi said.

This story was written by VOA’s William Ide in Beijing. Joyce Huang contributed.

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Bolton Takes Helm on US National Security at Time of Tumult

The U.S. military is bracing for a possible strike in Syria. Preparations for a high-risk North Korea summit are barreling forward. The White House staff is on edge, unsure who will be fired next, and when. And the national security team is holding its breath to see whether their new leader will be a shock to the system.

Enter John Bolton, the pugnacious former U.N. ambassador who took over Monday as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser — the third person to hold the job in barely 14 months. Trump’s selection of Bolton last month set off a guessing game in Washington as to just how much of an imprint his take-no-prisoners approach to foreign policy will have on Trump’s team, already beleaguered and exhausted after a tumultuous first year.

If Bolton had any first-day jitters, he had little time to indulge them. A daunting to-do list has awaited him, punctuated over the weekend by a suspected chemical weapons attack by Syria’s government that led Trump to start exploring potential military retaliation.

Although Bolton didn’t formally start until Monday, he was spotted entering the White House over the weekend, carrying an umbrella as he strolled down the driveway toward the West Wing on a rainy Saturday.

And on Monday, he appeared at his first Cabinet meeting, where Trump talked up his forthcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chided China for taking advantage of the United States and condemned the “atrocious” chemical attack in Syria. Bolton didn’t speak, but was seated prominently behind Trump as reporters were briefly allowed into the meeting.

“I think he’s going to be a fantastic representative of our team,” Trump said later in the day. He pointed out the fact that Bolton was starting in the midst of an urgent situation with Syria, adding: “Interesting day.”

Inevitably, Bolton’s past statements in public jobs and as a Fox News commentator follow him into the job. At the White House press briefing Monday, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about a comment Bolton made in 2013 on Fox and Friends — he said he would have opposed an authorization to use force in Syria.

“The point of view that matters most here at the White House, as you well know, is the president’s,” Sanders replied.

Next to go?

Apprehension outside the White House about Bolton’s influence has been matched by hand-wringing in the West Wing about whose fortunes will rise and fall as the new national security adviser takes charge.

In Trump’s reality-show-infused White House, it’s become a truism that when a powerful aide departs — like the chief of staff, national security adviser or a Cabinet secretary — others who were considered aligned with that aide are often the next to go. There have been many such shake-ups, even in just the past few weeks. And Bolton, in his former jobs at the U.N. and at the State Department, developed a reputation as someone who doesn’t suffer fools quietly.

Even before Bolton started, rumors were circulating about potential exits on the national security team. The night before Bolton started, the White House said National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton would be departing, a high-profile public face of national security team. The White House said Trump thanked Anton for his service, but his departure marked another moment of upheaval in an administration marked by months of in-fighting and high-level departures.

Although it’s unclear whether Bolton will “clean house,” two U.S officials and two outside advisers to the administration said that the White House has been considering a significant staff shake-up in the part of the NSC that handles the Middle East. That comes as Trump prepares for a key decision next month on whether to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 accord that Bolton has long derided.

Traffic cop

In the weeks since being named to the post, Bolton has quietly sought to calm concerns that he would push a more militaristic, hawkish approach on the president, considering his previously expressed support for pre-emptive military action against North Korea and regime change in Iran.

Although he stayed out of the public eye, showing deference to outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Bolton privately told some foreign embassies and influential foreign policy experts that he planned to approach the job more like a traffic cop, guiding a decision-making process in which the president can hear competing views, said individuals familiar with those conversations who weren’t authorized to discuss them and requested anonymity.

Frank Gaffney, a longtime Bolton associate and former Reagan administration official who runs the far-right think tank Center for Security Policy, said Bolton views his role as “to help the president get his program implemented.” Bolton has been “preparing his whole life to be in this job,” Gaffney said.

Yet in his 2007 book Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton reflected on his decision to take a job at the U.S. Agency for International Development after President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated rather than work at the White House, out of concern his own voice would not be heard.

“Being on the White House staff was fun,” Bolton wrote. “But I wanted ‘line’ responsibility — to manage something and to change it, not simply to be ‘staff,’ even at the White House.”

Bolton’s start comes after the tortured exit for McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser, a three-star general who never developed a strong personal bond with the president. While the White House said McMaster’s exit had been under discussion for some time and stressed it was not due to any one incident, it came after months of speculation about his future in the administration.

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Bolton Takes Helm on US National Security at Time of Tumult

The U.S. military is bracing for a possible strike in Syria. Preparations for a high-risk North Korea summit are barreling forward. The White House staff is on edge, unsure who will be fired next, and when. And the national security team is holding its breath to see whether their new leader will be a shock to the system.

Enter John Bolton, the pugnacious former U.N. ambassador who took over Monday as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser — the third person to hold the job in barely 14 months. Trump’s selection of Bolton last month set off a guessing game in Washington as to just how much of an imprint his take-no-prisoners approach to foreign policy will have on Trump’s team, already beleaguered and exhausted after a tumultuous first year.

If Bolton had any first-day jitters, he had little time to indulge them. A daunting to-do list has awaited him, punctuated over the weekend by a suspected chemical weapons attack by Syria’s government that led Trump to start exploring potential military retaliation.

Although Bolton didn’t formally start until Monday, he was spotted entering the White House over the weekend, carrying an umbrella as he strolled down the driveway toward the West Wing on a rainy Saturday.

And on Monday, he appeared at his first Cabinet meeting, where Trump talked up his forthcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, chided China for taking advantage of the United States and condemned the “atrocious” chemical attack in Syria. Bolton didn’t speak, but was seated prominently behind Trump as reporters were briefly allowed into the meeting.

“I think he’s going to be a fantastic representative of our team,” Trump said later in the day. He pointed out the fact that Bolton was starting in the midst of an urgent situation with Syria, adding: “Interesting day.”

Inevitably, Bolton’s past statements in public jobs and as a Fox News commentator follow him into the job. At the White House press briefing Monday, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about a comment Bolton made in 2013 on Fox and Friends — he said he would have opposed an authorization to use force in Syria.

“The point of view that matters most here at the White House, as you well know, is the president’s,” Sanders replied.

Next to go?

Apprehension outside the White House about Bolton’s influence has been matched by hand-wringing in the West Wing about whose fortunes will rise and fall as the new national security adviser takes charge.

In Trump’s reality-show-infused White House, it’s become a truism that when a powerful aide departs — like the chief of staff, national security adviser or a Cabinet secretary — others who were considered aligned with that aide are often the next to go. There have been many such shake-ups, even in just the past few weeks. And Bolton, in his former jobs at the U.N. and at the State Department, developed a reputation as someone who doesn’t suffer fools quietly.

Even before Bolton started, rumors were circulating about potential exits on the national security team. The night before Bolton started, the White House said National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton would be departing, a high-profile public face of national security team. The White House said Trump thanked Anton for his service, but his departure marked another moment of upheaval in an administration marked by months of in-fighting and high-level departures.

Although it’s unclear whether Bolton will “clean house,” two U.S officials and two outside advisers to the administration said that the White House has been considering a significant staff shake-up in the part of the NSC that handles the Middle East. That comes as Trump prepares for a key decision next month on whether to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 accord that Bolton has long derided.

Traffic cop

In the weeks since being named to the post, Bolton has quietly sought to calm concerns that he would push a more militaristic, hawkish approach on the president, considering his previously expressed support for pre-emptive military action against North Korea and regime change in Iran.

Although he stayed out of the public eye, showing deference to outgoing national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Bolton privately told some foreign embassies and influential foreign policy experts that he planned to approach the job more like a traffic cop, guiding a decision-making process in which the president can hear competing views, said individuals familiar with those conversations who weren’t authorized to discuss them and requested anonymity.

Frank Gaffney, a longtime Bolton associate and former Reagan administration official who runs the far-right think tank Center for Security Policy, said Bolton views his role as “to help the president get his program implemented.” Bolton has been “preparing his whole life to be in this job,” Gaffney said.

Yet in his 2007 book Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton reflected on his decision to take a job at the U.S. Agency for International Development after President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated rather than work at the White House, out of concern his own voice would not be heard.

“Being on the White House staff was fun,” Bolton wrote. “But I wanted ‘line’ responsibility — to manage something and to change it, not simply to be ‘staff,’ even at the White House.”

Bolton’s start comes after the tortured exit for McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser, a three-star general who never developed a strong personal bond with the president. While the White House said McMaster’s exit had been under discussion for some time and stressed it was not due to any one incident, it came after months of speculation about his future in the administration.

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New Projects in Brazil’s Amazon? Not Without Congressional Approval, says Court

Brazil’s government has been told that development projects, including hydropower dams, in protected areas can no longer go ahead without the prior approval of lawmakers.

Last week’s ruling by the supreme court followed the use by the government in recent years of the controversial “provisional measure”, a legal instrument that allowed the president to approve projects by reducing the size of protected areas.

Campaigners said the decision should ensure the country’s forests and reserves, including the Amazon rainforest, were better protected.

“This decision puts an end to a spree of provisional measures in the name of environmental de-protection,” said Mauricio Guetta, a lawyer at Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), an advocacy group.

In recent years, the government has used the measure to open up protected areas for controversial projects, including building two of Brazil’s largest hydropower dams – the Jirau and Santo Antonio – in the Amazon.

The use of the measure to shrink protected areas with immediate effect had brought “irreversible consequences, irreversible damage to the environment,” Guetta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The eight-judge bench ruled unanimously that using the provisional measure to reduce the size of protected areas for any reason was unconstitutional.

 

It followed a lawsuit in which the court heard the measure had been used in 2012 to allow trees in six protected areas of the Amazon to be felled to make way for five hydropower dams.

“The (provisional measure), later converted into law, reduced the level of environmental protection by deactivating due legislative process,” supreme court justice Alexandre de Moraes said in a statement.

The court said the ruling would not affect the five hydropower plants in question because the provisional measure had already been enacted in law, and some are operating.

Guetta said the ruling meant any changes to protected areas must be first approved by law, and local communities should be properly consulted about projects planned on their land.

“The government has been trying to reduce by more than 1 million hectares the area under conservation in the southern part of Amazonas state. Now this initiative is officially vetoed because of the supreme court’s decision,” he said.

Environmentalists say increasing swaths of land, including the Amazon forest, are being felled for grazing and cropland, and for development projects.

Deforestation in the Amazon fell in the August 2016 to July 2017 monitoring period for the first time in three years, although the 6,624 square kilometers (2,557 square miles) cleared of forest remains well above the low recorded in 2012 and targets for slowing climate change.

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New Projects in Brazil’s Amazon? Not Without Congressional Approval, says Court

Brazil’s government has been told that development projects, including hydropower dams, in protected areas can no longer go ahead without the prior approval of lawmakers.

Last week’s ruling by the supreme court followed the use by the government in recent years of the controversial “provisional measure”, a legal instrument that allowed the president to approve projects by reducing the size of protected areas.

Campaigners said the decision should ensure the country’s forests and reserves, including the Amazon rainforest, were better protected.

“This decision puts an end to a spree of provisional measures in the name of environmental de-protection,” said Mauricio Guetta, a lawyer at Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), an advocacy group.

In recent years, the government has used the measure to open up protected areas for controversial projects, including building two of Brazil’s largest hydropower dams – the Jirau and Santo Antonio – in the Amazon.

The use of the measure to shrink protected areas with immediate effect had brought “irreversible consequences, irreversible damage to the environment,” Guetta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The eight-judge bench ruled unanimously that using the provisional measure to reduce the size of protected areas for any reason was unconstitutional.

 

It followed a lawsuit in which the court heard the measure had been used in 2012 to allow trees in six protected areas of the Amazon to be felled to make way for five hydropower dams.

“The (provisional measure), later converted into law, reduced the level of environmental protection by deactivating due legislative process,” supreme court justice Alexandre de Moraes said in a statement.

The court said the ruling would not affect the five hydropower plants in question because the provisional measure had already been enacted in law, and some are operating.

Guetta said the ruling meant any changes to protected areas must be first approved by law, and local communities should be properly consulted about projects planned on their land.

“The government has been trying to reduce by more than 1 million hectares the area under conservation in the southern part of Amazonas state. Now this initiative is officially vetoed because of the supreme court’s decision,” he said.

Environmentalists say increasing swaths of land, including the Amazon forest, are being felled for grazing and cropland, and for development projects.

Deforestation in the Amazon fell in the August 2016 to July 2017 monitoring period for the first time in three years, although the 6,624 square kilometers (2,557 square miles) cleared of forest remains well above the low recorded in 2012 and targets for slowing climate change.

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Apple: All Its Facilities Now Powered by Clean Energy

Apple on Monday said it had achieved its goal of powering all of the company’s facilities with renewable energy, a milestone that includes all of its data centers, offices and retail stores in 43 countries.

The iPhone maker also said nine suppliers had recently committed to running their operations entirely on renewable energy sources like wind and solar, bringing to 23 the total number to make such a pledge.

Major U.S. corporations such as Apple, Wal-Mart and Alphabet have become some of the country’s biggest buyers of renewable forms of energy, driving substantial growth in the wind and solar industries.

Alphabet’s Google last year purchased enough renewable energy to cover all of its electricity consumption worldwide.

Costs for solar and wind are plunging thanks to technological advances and increased global production of panels and turbines, enabling companies seeking to green their images to buy clean power at competitive prices.

“We’re not spending any more than we would have,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, said in an interview. “We’re seeing the benefits of an increasingly competitive clean energy market.”

Renewable energy projects that provide power to Apple facilities range from large wind farms in the United States to clusters of hundreds of rooftop solar systems in Japan and Singapore. The company has also urged utilities to procure renewable energy to help power Apple’s operations.

Encouraging suppliers to follow suit in embracing 100 percent renewable energy is the next step for Apple. The suppliers that pledge to use more clean energy know they will have “a leg up” against competitors for Apple’s business, Jackson said.

“We made it clear that, over time, this will become less of a wish list and more of a requirement,” she said.

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Apple: All Its Facilities Now Powered by Clean Energy

Apple on Monday said it had achieved its goal of powering all of the company’s facilities with renewable energy, a milestone that includes all of its data centers, offices and retail stores in 43 countries.

The iPhone maker also said nine suppliers had recently committed to running their operations entirely on renewable energy sources like wind and solar, bringing to 23 the total number to make such a pledge.

Major U.S. corporations such as Apple, Wal-Mart and Alphabet have become some of the country’s biggest buyers of renewable forms of energy, driving substantial growth in the wind and solar industries.

Alphabet’s Google last year purchased enough renewable energy to cover all of its electricity consumption worldwide.

Costs for solar and wind are plunging thanks to technological advances and increased global production of panels and turbines, enabling companies seeking to green their images to buy clean power at competitive prices.

“We’re not spending any more than we would have,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, said in an interview. “We’re seeing the benefits of an increasingly competitive clean energy market.”

Renewable energy projects that provide power to Apple facilities range from large wind farms in the United States to clusters of hundreds of rooftop solar systems in Japan and Singapore. The company has also urged utilities to procure renewable energy to help power Apple’s operations.

Encouraging suppliers to follow suit in embracing 100 percent renewable energy is the next step for Apple. The suppliers that pledge to use more clean energy know they will have “a leg up” against competitors for Apple’s business, Jackson said.

“We made it clear that, over time, this will become less of a wish list and more of a requirement,” she said.

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