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A Lifeline for Millions in Somalia, Money Remittance Industry Seeks More Support

Every month, Fatma Ahmed sends $200 of the earnings she makes in London to her family in Somalia.

“It’s for daily life. For rent, for buying grocery things, to live over there. Because actually in Somalia, that much we do not have,” she said.

Remittances from overseas diaspora constitute a vital part of the economy of many developing nations, none more so than Somalia, where the inflows add up to more than foreign aid and investment combined. However, analysts warn that the industry is poorly understood by regulators and banks, putting the welfare of millions of people at risk.

The two million Somalis living overseas send an estimated $1.3 billion back home every year. With no formal banking system in Somalia, most of the diaspora use remittance services.

Technology makes that possible, says Abdirashid Duale, CEO of Dahabshiil, one of Africa’s biggest remittance services.

“Now, it is so instant, where we have the latest technology, with the internet, secure channels that we can use to send money back home,” Duale said. “Or we use mobiles … smartphones, technology where it will help us to deliver money quickly, but less costly. Technology is supporting us also with the compliance issue.”

Remittance companies rely on global banks to route the money, and those banks must comply with regulations on money laundering and the financing of crime and terrorism.

Citing those concerns, many banks have chosen to withdraw from the market. Such a move is unnecessary, says remittance industry expert Laura Hammond of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

“Very often, it is not based on any kind of empirical evidence that shows that money is going into the wrong hands,” Hammond said. “The fear is just there is a conflict in Somalia, there’s the al-Shabab movement. And so there is a problem in a sense, a real precarious nature of the Somali remittance industry.”

The industry received a high-profile boost last month as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $1 million using the remittance firm Dahabshiil, along with mobile phone companies Somtel and eDahab, with the money transferred “live” to 1,000 families suffering the drought in Somalia.

The technology is moving fast. However, the cooperation of the global banking system remains key, and the remittance industry wants regulators to do more to support this lifeline. 

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A Lifeline for Millions in Somalia, Money Remittance Industry Seeks Support

Remittances from overseas diaspora constitute a vital part of the economy of many developing nations, none more so than Somalia, where the inflows add up to more than foreign aid and investment combined. But analysts warn the industry is poorly understood by regulators and banks — and its precarious nature puts the welfare of millions of people at risk. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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Teens Overwhelmingly Prefer Snapchat to Facebook, Study Finds

Teenagers are turning away from traditional social media like Facebook and increasingly turning to Snapchat to communicate with their friends, according to a new study released Wednesday.

According to Piper Jaffray’s semi-annual “Taking Stock with Teens” research survey, 47 percent of teenagers said Snapchat is their favorite social media platform, compared with just nine percent who said Facebook was their favorite.

The results show a sharp spike in the number of teens who said Snapchat is their favorite platform, up from 24 percent when the survey was given in the spring of last year.

In addition to Snapchat and Facebook, 24 percent of teens said they preferred Instagram – virtually unchanged from 2016 – and seven percent said they prefer Twitter, down from 15 percent last year.

For the report, Piper Jaffray interviewed 6,100 teens in 44 states, with an average age of 16.

While Snapchat is the most popular social medium used by teens, it is also the most harmful for them, according to a study released earlier this year by the British Royal Society for Public Health.

The study, which ranked the psychological impact of various social media on teenagers, showed Snapchat, along with Instagram, to cause the largest number of “health and well-being” issues among those surveyed.

Those issues include anxiety, depression, quality of sleep, body image, loneliness and real-world friendships and connections.

Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the RSPH, said Snapchat and Instagram likely cause the most mental health issues among teens because “both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

To combat the negative influence of social media, the researchers recommend adding pop ups that warn users of heavy usage, which was supported by 71 percent of the people surveyed.

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Twitter Vows New Crackdown on Hateful, Abusive Tweets

Twitter vowed to crack down further on hate speech and sexual harassment, days after CEO Jack Dorsey said in a tweet-storm that the company was “still” not doing enough to protect its users.

The policy changes were specifically aimed at protecting women who unknowingly or unwillingly had nude pictures of themselves distributed online or were subject to unwanted sexual advances. They would also aim to shield groups subject to hateful imagery, symbols and threats of violence.

In an email Twitter shared with The Associated Press Tuesday, Twitter’s head of safety policy outlined the new guidelines to the company’s Trust and Safety Council, a group of outside organizations that advises the company on its policies against abuse.

The company said it would enact the changes in the weeks ahead. News of the policy changes was first reported by Wired.

Among the changes, Twitter said it would immediately and permanently suspend any account it identifies as being the original poster of “non-consensual nudity,” including so-called “creep shots” of a sexual nature taken surreptitiously. Previously, the company treated the original poster of the content the same as those who re-tweeted it, and it resulted only in a temporary suspension.

It said it would also develop a system allowing bystanders to report unwanted exchanges of sexually charged content, whereas in the past it relied on one of the parties involved in the conversation to come forward before taking action.

Twitter also said it would take new action on hate symbols and imagery and “take enforcement action against organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause,” though it said more details were to come.

While it already takes action against direct threats of violence, the company said it would also act against tweets that glorify or condone violence.

On Friday, Dorsey foreshadowed the coming policy changes in a series of tweets, saying the company’s efforts over the last two years were inadequate.

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Monitoring Pollution in Cities from Space

The European Space Agency ESA has launched a new satellite that will collect data useful to ordinary people everywhere on earth. For at least seven years, the Sentinel 5 Precursor will monitor air pollution caused by both man-made and natural activities, alerting people about the concentration of pollutants that may affect their health. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Significant Differences Remain After 4th Round of NAFTA talks End in Washington

Trade ministers from the United States, Canada and Mexico wrapped up a contentious fourth round of talks this week, aimed at modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement. But the Trump administration’s proposals to reshape NAFTA have some trade analysts wondering if the 23-year-old trade pact can survive. Mil Arcega has more.

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Telegram CEO’s Court Appeal Tests Russia Eavesdropping Laws, Technical Acumen

Telegram founder Pavel Durov has announced plans to appeal a Moscow court’s decision Monday to fine the encrypted messaging service some $14,000 (800 thousand rubles) for failing to provide law enforcement agencies with user information and access to private correspondences.

Providing security services with encryption keys to read users’ messaging data violates Russia’s constitution, he said in a post on Vkontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, which he co-founded in 2007.

“Everyone has the right to privacy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraphic and other communications,” Durov said, quoting constitutional excerpts.

Russian special services need decryption keys to “expand their influence at the expense of the constitutional right of citizens,” he said, building on similar comments Durov made in September, when he announced that FSB officials had requested backdoor access to Telegram.

Russian security officials have said encryption codes are vital to protecting citizens against terror attacks such as those earlier this year in St. Petersburg, in which perpetrators, Kremlin officials says, communicated via Telegram.

According to Pavel Chikov, a prominent Russian human rights lawyer, the FSB state security organization (formerly KGB) is trying to gain technical access by announcing ultimatums and making threats. While fines levied aren’t too burdensome for a company of Telegram’s size, they do indicate an FSB willingness to block Telegram from continuing to operate in the country.

Third-party hackers

The situation, Chikov said, is similar to legal proceedings that resulted from FBI requests for encryption access to Apple iPhones — a request that ultimately was dropped, leaving federal investigators to rely on third-party hackers.

Secrecy, anonymity and “the ability to communicate in such a way that representatives of the state do not hear these conversations,” should also be respected in Russia, Chikov told VOA Russian.

“Generally speaking, if we are talking on [a conventional] telephone, the conversation is protected by constitutional guarantees,” Chikov said. However, Russian police and various state security agencies can obtain court-ordered warrants to tap the phone of specific individuals suspected of a plotting criminal activities — and they have the technical acumen required to do it.

Although privacy laws are generally the same for peer-to-peer text-messaging devices, Russian security agencies lack the technical sophistication to hack Telegram’s encrypted conversations.

Durov ‘most likely right’

Professor Ilya Shablinsky, a constitutional law expert with Moscow’s National Research University, says Durov is “most likely right” that FSB demands represent a constitutional violation, as allowing FSB access to Telegram would allow for users’ correspondence to be read.

“When that constitutional norm was drafted, correspondence was typically drafted on paper,” he said.

“And the Russian Constitution’s authors never envisaged a technological variant [such as Telegram]. In this case, we do not know exactly what kind of information the FSB requested, and what it means for Telegram to provide that information.”

According to Shablinsky, although a Russian court can demand access to correspondences of a specific individual who is suspected of committing a crime, it is not known whether the provision covers access to the decryption devices for an entire network of users.

The free instant-messaging app, which lets people exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted about 100 million users since its launch in 2013.

Telegram threatened

In June, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s state communications watchdog, threatened to ban Telegram for failing to provide user registration documents, which were requested as part of a push to increase surveillance of internet activities.

Although Telegram later registered, it stopped short of agreeing to Roskomnadzor’s data storage demands. Companies on the register must provide the FSB with information on user interactions; starting from 2018, they also must store all of the data of Russian users inside the country, according to controversial anti-terror legislation passed last year, which was decried by internet companies and the opposition.

Telegram has 10 days to appeal Monday’s decision.

‘No planned block’

Asked about a potential block of the service, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said, “As far as I know … there is no discussion of a block at this time.”

But observers like Chikov say the risk is quite high.

“It is not necessarily going to happen right after the decision on the penalty comes into effect, as I believe that the authorities will still take a pause and try to negotiate with the company’s management,” he said. “However, with its refusal to provide access to correspondence, Telegram entered into direct conflict with the interests of the special services. Consequently, the political weight of people who decide to block is significantly higher than that of the same Roskomnadzor.”

Telegram, one-tenth the size of Facebook-owned rival WhatsApp, has caught on in many corners of the globe, including for a while with Islamic State as an ultra-secure way to quickly upload and share videos, texts and voice messages.

Durov, who has been described as “the Russian Mark Zuckerberg,” spent years fending off intrusions into his users’ communications, forging an uncompromising stance on privacy after founding VKontakte, only to lose control of that social media company for refusing Russian government demands to block dissidents.

Since leaving Russia in 2014 to set up Telegram in self-exile, Durov and his core team of 15 developers have become perpetual migrants, living only a few months at a time in any one location, starting in Berlin, then London, Silicon Valley, Finland, Spain and elsewhere. The company is incorporated in multiple jurisdictions, including Britain.

This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service. Some information for this report provided by AFP.

 

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White House: Judge’s Decision Halting Travel Ban ‘Dangerously Flawed’

The White House is reacting furiously to a federal judge blocking President Donald Trump’s latest executive order that would have banned entry to travelers from several countries beginning Wednesday.

“Today’s dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the president’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States,” said a White House statement issued Tuesday shortly after Judge Derrick Watson ruled against restrictions on travelers from six countries the Trump administration said could not provide enough information to meet U.S. security standards.

The travel order would have barred to various degrees travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Watson’s temporary restraining order does not interfere with restrictions on North Korea and Venezuela.

Justice Department defends White House

The Justice Department “will vigorously defend the president’s lawful action,” the White House said, contending its proclamation restricting travel was issued after an extensive worldwide security review.  

The Justice Department called the ruling incorrect and said it will appeal the decision “in an expeditious manner.”

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said: “While we will comply with any lawful judicial order, we look forward to prevailing in this matter upon appeal.”

No change for North Korea, Venezuela

The new travel order “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the United States,'” Judge Watson wrote in his opinion.

The White House argues that its restrictions “are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our nation.”

Officials in the White House are expressing confidence that further judicial review will uphold the president’s action.

Hawaii involved for third time

Consular officials have been told to resume “regular processing of visas” for people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to a State Department official.

The suit on which Judge Watson ruled on Tuesday was filed by the state of Hawaii, the Muslim Association of Hawaii and various individuals.

“This is the third time Hawaii has gone to court to stop President Trump from issuing a travel ban that discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin. “Today is another victory for the rule of law.”

Molly McKitterick contributed to this report.

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Canada: NAFTA’s Proposed Changes ‘Troubling’

Canada’s foreign minister says there are “unconventional” and “troubling” proposals on the table as Canada, the United States and Mexico seek to update the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The fourth round of talks on revising the 23-year-old NAFTA deal wrapped up Tuesday, with more talks set for Mexico next month and additional discussions early next year.

Canada’s Chrystia Freeland said proposals created “challenges,” and “turn back the clock” on NAFTA. Failure could threaten jobs across North America, she said. In addition, ending NAFTA could hurt the North American teamwork that produces cars efficiently and makes them competitive with products from other regions, she added.

Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said it was clear from the beginning that the talks would be tough and “we still have a lot of work to do.” He also said all nations “have limits.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the United States faces a large trade deficit, and blamed NAFTA for the loss of manufacturing jobs. He expressed frustration that his negotiating partners were not willing to make changes to reduce those deficits. 

NAFTA was harshly criticized by candidate Donald Trump, and press reports say Washington has since proposed renegotiating the deal every five years, requiring more U.S.-made content in automobiles, and scaling back a mechanism to resolve disputes. Trump has blamed what he called poorly negotiated agreements for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs that hurt the U.S. economy. He promised to drive harder bargains in trade deals. 

The Brookings Institution’s Dany Bahar said trade deficits are not the cause of job losses, and called the U.S. focus misplaced. He said NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanism and some other provisions could use some updating. However, he told VOA that NAFTA is closer to collapse than in previous rounds of talks. Such a collapse would mean U.S.-made cars would become more expensive and less competitive on world markets, likely making the United States the “biggest loser” if the trade deal fails, he said.

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