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Pentagon begins testing use of mass surveillance high-altitude balloons throughout six Midwest states. Apple has announced it is halting practice of contractors listening in on user recordings to Siri, in effort to protect user privacy. Federal Communications Commission has voted to deregulate cable franchise fees, prompting concern that delivery of local news and infrastructure for communities will suffer due to the new ruling. -Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs

The most pressing threats and notable goings-on in free expression today


Pentagon Testing Mass Surveillance Balloons across the U.S.
The U.S. military is conducting wide-area surveillance tests across six Midwest states using experimental high-altitude balloons, documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission reveal.

Apple Ends Siri ‘Grading,’ Says Contractors Won’t Listen to Voice Recordings Anymore
Nearly a week after news broke that contractors working for Apple had access to intimate and personal Siri recordings—a practice of quality control known as “grading”—the company said in a statement that it would halt the practice.

U.S. FCC Votes to Tighten Rules on Cable Franchise Fees
The FCC voted 3-2 to tighten rules governing the franchise fees paid by cable companies to local authorities, a move that cities warn could result in public access channels going off the air or in municipalities losing free service.

About a Quarter of Large U.S. Newspapers Laid off Staff in 2018
Layoffs continue to pummel U.S. newspapers. Roughly a quarter of papers with an average Sunday circulation of 50,000 or more experienced layoffs in 2018. The layoffs come on top of the roughly one-third of papers in the same circulation range that experienced layoffs in 2017.


Journalist Detained on Mexican Military Base
The Mexican army said reporter Humberto Padgett, who works on his Radio Formula show, and two retired soldiers have been detained after entering a military base north of the capital under false pretenses and recording video.

Hong Kong Civil Servants Protest in Defiance of Loyalty Order
Thousands of public servants, who are normally politically neutral, defied a government order to remain “totally loyal” to Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, and crowded into a public park near government offices.

Facebook Bans ‘Saudi Arabia-Linked Propaganda Accounts’
Facebook said it discovered that people linked to the Saudi authorities have been using fake accounts to spread propaganda. It said the operation mainly targeted the Middle East and North Africa, and most of the content was in Arabic.

Mexican Newspaper Closes Print Edition after Attack
El Monitor de Parral, a newspaper in the city of Parral in northern Mexico, decided to temporarily stop publishing its print edition after unidentified assailants tossed gasoline bombs at its office. In an editorial, the paper said it will continue with its digital edition, but will not cover any crime stories or news “with a political slant.”

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