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State Department will launch new panel stressing human rights “natural law,” feared by some as an attempt to narrow protections for women and members of the LGBTQ community. Users of Amazon’s Alexa can now order the voice-controlled assistant to forget what they have said, in company’s effort to build better privacy protections. Advocacy group sues University of Illinois for allegedly chilling speech through its bias reporting system. WhatsApp, Google, and other encryption service providers condemn a British spy agency’s proposal to access users’ encrypted messages, citing personal privacy and cybersecurity concerns. —Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs

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


State Department to Launch New Human Rights Panel Stressing ‘Natural Law’
Several human rights activists said that they were surprised by the move and trying to learn details. Some privately said they worry that talk of the “nation’s founding principles” and “natural law” are coded signals of plans to focus less on protecting women and LGBT people.

Now You Can Order Alexa to Forget What You Just Said
The privacy-focused moves come as consumers, consumer-privacy advocates and legislators are becoming increasingly wary of Alexa-enabled gadgets. In April, Bloomberg reported that Amazon workers listen to audio clips to help the company improve Alexa’s understanding of speech.

First Amendment Group Sues the University of Illinois Over Bias Reporting System, Restrictions on Political Speech
The lawsuit also argues that because the university defines “bias incidents” very broadly—as any action or expression motivated by hostility toward a protected group—its bias reporting system has the effect of chilling constitutionally protected speech.

Apple, Google, WhatsApp Condemn British Spy Agency Proposal to Access Encrypted Messages
The proposal would require encryption service providers to grant access to the “ghosts,” because end-to-end encryption obscures message content from the service that hosts it, the letter writers said. Apps like WhatsApp would have to mislead users by keeping them from knowing when someone uninvited was present on a chat or call.


Sudan Army Says Protest Site a Threat, Closes Al Jazeera Office
In a statement, Al Jazeera denounced the “abrupt” closure of its Khartoum bureau and the banning of its reporters from reporting in the country, calling it “a complete violation of the freedom of the press.” Al Jazeera called for the immediate resumption of operations of the bureau and said it would continue its coverage of Sudan.

Detained Pakistani Journalist Wazir Released
Pakistani journalist Gohar Wazir has been released from custody and returned home on May 31. He was held overnight at a Counterterrorism Police station with about two dozen other people. He was then transferred to a prison in Haripur District. He said he was not abused but that he felt intimidated during his ordeal.

UK Internet Attitudes Study Finds Public Support for Social Media Regulation
While the report found there is increased support for greater online regulation in a range of areas, it also says nearly half (47%) of adult internet users expressed recognition that websites and social media platforms play an important role in supporting free speech—“even where some people might find content offensive.”

The Singapore ‘Fake News’ Law Threatens Free Speech. But It Doesn’t Stop There.
Under the legislation, any government minister can mandate a correction notice in response to any statement online that the minister decides is false and that undercuts confidence in the government’s policies or is contrary to Singapore’s policies. These ministers can also order that such statements be taken off the internet outright.

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