Official: Trump Administration to Publish Proposed Rule Changes for Gun Exports

The Trump administration is preparing to publish on Thursday long-delayed proposed rule changes for the export of U.S. firearms, a State Department official said on Tuesday.

The rule changes would move the oversight of commercial firearm exports from the U.S. Department of State to the Department of Commerce.

The action is part of a broader Trump administration overhaul of weapons export policy that was announced in April.

Domestic gun sales drop

Timing for the formal publication of the rule change and the opening of the public comment period was unveiled by Mike Miller the acting secretary for the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, the State Department’s body that currently oversees the bulk of commercial firearms transfers and other foreign military sales.

He was speaking at the Forum on the Arms Trade’s annual conference at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank.

Reuters first reported on the proposed rule changes in September as the Trump administration was preparing to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers.

Domestic gun sales have fallen significantly after soaring under President Barack Obama, when gun enthusiasts stockpiled weapons and ammunition out of fear that the government would tighten gun laws.

A move by the Trump administration to make it simpler to sell small arms abroad may generate business for gun makers American Outdoor Brands and Sturm, Ruger & Company in an industry experiencing a deep sales slump since the election of President Donald Trump.

Remington recovers from bankruptcy

Remington, America’s oldest gun maker, filed for bankruptcy protection in March, weeks after a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people and triggered intensified campaigns for gun control by activists. Remington emerged from bankruptcy last week.

The expected relaxing of rules could increase foreign gun sales by as much as 20 percent, the National Sports Shooting Foundation has estimated. As well as the industry’s big players, it may also help small gunsmiths and specialists who are currently required to pay an annual federal fee to export relatively minor amounts of products.

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Amazon Is Warned About Government Use of Facial Recognition

U.S. civil liberties groups on Tuesday called on Amazon.com Inc. to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software

could be used to target immigrants and people of color unfairly.

More than 40 groups sent a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos saying technology from the company’s cloud computing unit was ripe for abuse. The letter underscores how new tools for identifying and tracking people could be used to empower surveillance states.

Amazon has marketed a range of uses for its Rekognition service, unveiled in late 2016. These include detecting offensive content, identifying celebrities and securing public safety.

In a blog post last year, Amazon said a new feature let customers “identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention.”

Customers provide the data for Amazon’s tool to search.

“Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life,” Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, said in the blog post.

Freedom from being watched

But rights groups say the powerful tool raises concerns.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” said the letter to Bezos. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

Amazon has helped various U.S. jurisdictions use Rekognition, said the letter, citing public records obtained by affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Oregon, law enforcement uploaded 300,000 mug shots dating to 2001 into Amazon’s cloud and indexed them in Rekognition, according to another Amazon blog post.

Rekognition identified four faces with more than 80 percent similarity to an image of an unidentified hardware store thief; a Facebook search subsequently helped with the case, the post said.

The City of Orlando Police Department has also used Rekognition, according to Amazon’s website.

In a statement, Amazon Web Services said, “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.”

Amazon requires customers to abide by the law and be responsible when using Rekognition, it added.

The world’s largest online retailer is not alone: Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc.’s Google offer recognition services as well.

Identifying faces has become a common feature in consumer products from Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc.

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Amazon Is Warned About Government Use of Facial Recognition

U.S. civil liberties groups on Tuesday called on Amazon.com Inc. to stop offering facial recognition services to governments, warning that the software

could be used to target immigrants and people of color unfairly.

More than 40 groups sent a letter to Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos saying technology from the company’s cloud computing unit was ripe for abuse. The letter underscores how new tools for identifying and tracking people could be used to empower surveillance states.

Amazon has marketed a range of uses for its Rekognition service, unveiled in late 2016. These include detecting offensive content, identifying celebrities and securing public safety.

In a blog post last year, Amazon said a new feature let customers “identify people of interest against a collection of millions of faces in near real-time, enabling use cases such as timely and accurate crime prevention.”

Customers provide the data for Amazon’s tool to search.

“Seconds saved in the field can make the difference in saving a life,” Chris Adzima, an analyst in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, said in the blog post.

Freedom from being watched

But rights groups say the powerful tool raises concerns.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” said the letter to Bezos. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom. In overpoliced communities of color, it could effectively eliminate it.”

Amazon has helped various U.S. jurisdictions use Rekognition, said the letter, citing public records obtained by affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Oregon, law enforcement uploaded 300,000 mug shots dating to 2001 into Amazon’s cloud and indexed them in Rekognition, according to another Amazon blog post.

Rekognition identified four faces with more than 80 percent similarity to an image of an unidentified hardware store thief; a Facebook search subsequently helped with the case, the post said.

The City of Orlando Police Department has also used Rekognition, according to Amazon’s website.

In a statement, Amazon Web Services said, “Our quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology.”

Amazon requires customers to abide by the law and be responsible when using Rekognition, it added.

The world’s largest online retailer is not alone: Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc.’s Google offer recognition services as well.

Identifying faces has become a common feature in consumer products from Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc.

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Facebook’s Zuckerberg Apologizes to EU Lawmakers

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized to EU lawmakers on Tuesday, saying the company had not done enough to prevent misuse of the social network and that regulation is “important and inevitable.”

Meeting the leaders of the European Parliament, Zuckerberg stressed the importance of Europeans to Facebook and said he was sorry for not doing enough to prevent abuse of the platform.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility. That was a mistake and I am sorry for it,” Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks.

In response to questions about whether Facebook ought to be broken up, Zuckerberg said the question was not whether there should be regulation but what kind of regulation there should be.

“Some sort of regulation is important and inevitable,” he said.

He declined to answer when leading lawmakers asked him again as the session concluded whether there was any cross use of data between Facebook and subsidiaries like WhatsApp or on whether he would give an undertaking to let users block targeting adverts.

Facebook has been embroiled in a data scandal after it emerged that the personal data of 87 million users were improperly accessed by a political consultancy.

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US, China Near Rescue Deal for Chinese Telecom Firm ZTE

U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday “there is no deal” yet to lift the seven-year ban on the sale of American-made components to the giant Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, but that there might be a settlement as part of ongoing trade talks between the world’s two biggest economies.

Trump told reporters at the White House that he could envision a $1.3 billion fine against ZTE for violating the U.S. ban on trading with Iran and North Korea, the replacement of ZTE’s management and board of directors and imposition of “very, very strict security” to prevent the theft of U.S. intellectual and national security secrets.

“We caught them doing bad things,” he said.

Trump said Chinese President Xi Jinping asked him to look into the fate of ZTE after the firm said it had to shut its production because the U.S. banned sale of American-made components ZTE uses to manufacture an array of technology products until 2025. Trump said he also heard protests from the U.S. companies selling goods to ZTE.

Trump declared he was “not satisfied” with the state of U.S.-China trade talks after last week’s negotiations in Washington. China agreed to “substantially reduce” the $375 billion annual trade surplus it has over the U.S. by buying more American goods, but there was no mention of any specific import and export targets in the statement agreed to by the two countries.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is headed to China next week for further trade talks.

Trump commented on the ZTE case as U.S. news accounts quoted officials as saying a deal was near.

His suggestion of a $1.3 billion fine was slightly more than the $1.2 billion penalty the U.S. imposed last year on ZTE after uncovering its trade ban violations.

On Sunday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said, “Do not expect ZTE to get off scot-free. Ain’t going to happen.”

Congressional opposition

But some U.S. lawmakers voiced opposition to settling the case.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who lost the 2016 Republican presidential nomination to Trump, contended that Washington had “surrendered” to Beijing. The Florida lawmaker said he would try to block it.

“Making changes to their board and a fine won’t stop them from spying and stealing from us. But this is too important to be over. We will begin working on veto-proof congressional action,” Rubio said on Twitter.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said, “The proposed solution is like a wet noodle,” contending ZTE’s technology devices threaten to steal U.S. national security secrets.

Rescuing ZTE

Trump last week called for rescuing ZTE “to get back into business, fast.” He said “too many jobs in China” were being lost after the U.S. banned the sales of American-made components to ZTE. The U.S. leader said, “Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”

While some U.S. officials said the penalties against ZTE — the fine and the ban on sale of U.S. components until 2025 — were a law enforcement action, Trump linked the issue to ongoing trade and tariff disputes with China. The two countries over the weekend called off the threat of imposing higher tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s exports while their negotiations continue.

Meanwhile, China announced Tuesday that on July 1 it will cut tariffs on most imported cars from 25 percent to 15 percent, still well above the 2.5 percent levy the U.S. imposes on cars imported from overseas.

The announcement by China’s finance ministry follows a pledge by Xi last month to lower the import duties and to ease foreign ownership restrictions for the Chinese auto industry.

Trump repeatedly has mentioned the 25 percent automobile tariff as a key trade barrier between the two countries.

On Monday, Trump said new trade between China and the U.S. will especially benefit U.S. farmers.

“Under our potential deal with China, they will purchase from our Great American Farmers practically as much as our Farmers can produce,” he said on Twitter.

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Mexican Truckers Travel in Fear as Highway Robberies Bleed Economy

Glancing constantly at his rear view mirror, truck driver “El Flaco” journeys the highways of Mexico haunted by the memory of when he was kidnapped with his security detail by bandits disguised as police officers two years ago.

Back then, El Flaco, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, was beaten, blindfolded and taken to a house near Mexico City where his captors threatened to kill him. Three days later he managed to escape and flee.

Today he travels with a machete and a satellite tracking device in his cab that can pinpoint him in emergencies.

Truckers covering Mexico’s vast territory often move in convoys to reduce the risk of robberies, which in 2017 almost doubled to nearly 3,000. Some drive with armed escorts traveling alongside them. Others remove the logos from their trucks.

Companies like brewer Grupo Modelo, a unit of AB InBev, and the Mexican subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Electronics have stepped up efforts to protect their drivers, deploying sophisticated geo-location technology and increasing communication with authorities.

The problem is part of a wider Latin American scourge of highway robbery that acts as a further drag on a region long held back by sub-par infrastructure.

“Roads are getting more and more dangerous, you try not to stop,” the 50-year-old El Flaco said, as he drove in the central state of Puebla, the epicenter of highway freight theft.

“Since I was kidnapped, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking in the mirror, checking car number plates, looking at who’s gone past me,” he added. “I look at everything.”

On the most dangerous roads, like those connecting Mexico City with major ports on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, it is almost certain that one in every two truckers will be held up, a study by U.S.-based security firm Sensitech showed.

While no official data on losses exist, insurers paid out almost $100 million in 2016 to crime-hit cargo operators, up 4.5 percent on 2015, Mexican insurance association AMIS says.

The true sum is likely far higher: only one in three loads is insured due to the cost, according to industry estimates.

More than 80 percent of goods are transported by road and rail in Mexico, and the thefts are hurting competitiveness at a time the country is seeking to diversify trade and tap new sources of business.

Fuels, food and beverages, building materials, chemicals, electronic goods, auto parts and clothing are all top targets, Sensitech said.

Competition squeeze

Upon taking office in December 2012, President Enrique Pena Nieto promised to get a grip on gang violence and lawlessness.

But after some initial progress, the situation deteriorated and murders hit their highest level on record last year.

Highway robberies of trucks fell through 2014. But they almost doubled in 2015 to 985, hit 1,587 in 2016 and reached 2,944 last year.

The government has responded by stepping up police patrols in affected areas and lengthening prison sentences for freight robbery to 15 years. But robberies are still rising and most are not even reported due to the arduous bureaucratic process involved, Sensitech says.

“It’s hurting productivity and competitiveness,” said Leonardo Gomez, who heads a transportation national industry body.

Some drivers are armoring cabs in trucks made by companies like U.S. firm Kenworth, an expensive move that still only covers a tiny fraction of the almost 11 million trucks crisscrossing Latin America’s second-largest economy.

Last year, 53 trucks were armored against high-caliber weapons, up 40 percent from 2016, according to the Mexican Association of Automotive Armorers.

Attacks are not confined to roads. Some 1,752 robberies were recorded on railways last year, official data show. Criminals have also become more sophisticated.

They are turning to high-caliber weapons and employ devices to block Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to prevent trucks communicating their whereabouts, experts say.

Previously, companies that suffered robberies were generally able to recover their vehicles. Not any more.

“It’s not just the goods they want, it’s the trucks too,” said Carlos Jimenez of Mexican insurance association AMIS.

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Indian Innovators Convert Diesel Exhaust Into Ink To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink. 

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest. 

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye. 

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up. 

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using. 

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems. 

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink. 

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon. 

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says. 

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere. 

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms. 

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. 

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