Big Ben Bongs Will Soon Ring Out Again Across London

LONDON — For five years, the most famous clock tower in Britain was hidden behind an ugly fortress of scaffolding, and its hourly bong was rendered mute.

But the restoration work is done, and this summer, a sound familiar to Londoners for more than a century and a half will again ring out across the British capital — Big Ben is back.

The clock tower — officially known as the Elizabeth Tower since 2012 when it was renamed in honor of the queen’s diamond jubilee — stands tall over the Palace of Westminster, which houses the British Parliament and is one of the world’s most instantly recognized constructions. But it is the nickname of the biggest bell in the belfry that draws the most name recognition: Big Ben.

started ticking in 1859. More than 3,500 parts were removed from the 316-foot tower, including much of its iron roof.

Brexit supporters fought in vain to return it to service to mark the country’s exit from the European Union.

The challenges of making that happen, though, become clear when climbing the confined, 334-step stairwell that winds up to the belfry. Also evident: the quality of the renovation.

Bright morning light shone in through the four restored clock faces — perched high above the Houses of Parliament — each with 324 pieces of pot opal glass produced in Germany. Newly refurbished golden orbs that decorate the tower’s stonework glinted in the sun.

The sheer size of Big Ben, weighing a little over 15 tons, is impressive, as is the intricacy of a clock mechanism based on the most advanced technology available to its 19th-century creators. It still loses no more than a second in accuracy a week.

The Elizabeth Tower is not the first clock tower to watch over Parliament — that one is thought to date from around 1290. In 1834, a fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster, leading to the construction of the modern-day building that is one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world.

And when the original clock tower was built, it was constructed with a rising scaffold, “so it rose as if by magic, it was noted at the time,” Mr. Watrobski said.

In May 1859, crowds lined the streets to greet Big Ben’s arrival. The enormous bell was pulled by 16 horses to Westminster, where it took 18 hours to haul it nearly 200 feet to the belfry before it could first ring out.

Back then, the clock tower was the most advanced and ambitious public building of its age, but by 2017, stonework was deteriorating, water was leaking into the belfry, and the steps, ironwork and guttering were all in need of repair. There was even still damage dating from 1941, when Parliament was bombed during World War II.

“Like all historic buildings, you don’t really know until you peel off the skin what you are going to find underneath,” Mr. Watrobski said. “There was a considerable amount of damage to cast iron and to stonework.”

The restoration work has gone a long way to modernizing the Elizabeth Tower, which will reopen this year to tourists. But the improvements will benefit visitors and maintenance staff alike.

An elevator has been installed, as has a restroom at the top — the lack of which previously meant Big Ben’s maintenance workers had to trek down the 334 steps whenever they were in need of one. There is even now a spot for the staff to make tea.

While Big Ben needs constant maintenance, the clock had never been fully serviced until this restoration. After it was dismantled, it was secreted away from London, more than 280 miles, to the workshop of the Cumbria Clock Company in northwestern England.

Given its symbolic importance, its whereabouts while being serviced was never disclosed.

To help keep the work under wraps, the Cumbria Clock Company removed signs from its building to make it harder for uninvited visitors to find. When a group of walkers once peered through a window and asked if they were looking at the famous clock, they were told that they were instead viewing one from Manchester Town Hall.

“It was very important that what we were doing was kept secret,” said the company’s director, Keith Scobie-Youngs, who was worried that it might attract thieves or vandals as well as curious tourists.

Mr. Scobie-Youngs said that the clock had been in remarkably good condition and that he had been awed by the skill of the 19th-century clockmakers.

“Nobody had ever attempted to build a clock that size to the accuracy demanded,” he said, adding, “I refer to it as being the smartphone of the 1850s.”

Mr. Scobie-Youngs also lauded Big Ben: “There is a unique sound to it,” he said. “It is that unique heartbeat.”

The bell’s bong, he said, was instantly recognizable to Britons. “When people were a long way from home, and it was on the radio, that unique sound brought people home again,” Mr. Scobie-Youngs said.

Freshly painted, finished with enough gold to cover four tennis courts, and complete with more than 7,000 replacement stones and carvings, the exterior of the Elizabeth Tower stands as a monument to what can be achieved by modern restoration, protecting it, hopefully, for the next 75 years.

Even for those who spent years on the project, the result was a pleasant surprise, said Charlotte Claughton, a senior project leader. She said that she was taken aback when the scaffolding came down and she saw the building shining, “as if it was new,” in the sunlight.

“It was hugely exciting to see it. There are a few moments that catch you off guard, and that was one of them,” Ms. Claughton said. “It was heartwarming.”

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3-D Printing Grows Beyond Its Novelty Roots

DEVENS, Mass. — The machines stand 20 feet high, weigh 60,000 pounds and represent the technological frontier of 3-D printing.

Each machine deploys 150 laser beams, projected from a gantry and moving quickly back and forth, making high-tech parts for corporate customers in fields including aerospace, semiconductors, defense and medical implants.

The parts of titanium and other materials are created layer by layer, each about as thin as a human hair, up to 20,000 layers, depending on a part’s design. The machines are hermetically sealed. Inside, the atmosphere is mainly argon, the least reactive of gases, reducing the chance of impurities that cause defects in a part.

“The Mainstreaming of Additive Manufacturing.”

a report by Hubs, a marketplace for manufacturing services.

The Biden administration is looking to 3-D printing to help lead a resurgence of American manufacturing. Additive technology will be one of “the foundations of modern manufacturing in the 21st century,” along with robotics and artificial intelligence, said Elisabeth Reynolds, special assistant to the president for manufacturing and economic development.

Additive Manufacturing Forward, an initiative coordinated by the White House in collaboration with major manufacturers. The five initial corporate members — GE Aviation, Honeywell, Siemens Energy, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin — are increasing their use of additive manufacturing and pledged to help their small and medium-size American suppliers adopt the technology.

VulcanForms was founded in 2015 by Dr. Hart and one of his graduate students, Martin Feldmann. They pursued a fresh approach for 3-D printing that uses an array of many more laser beams than existing systems. It would require innovations in laser optics, sensors and software to choreograph the intricate dance of laser beams.

By 2017, they had made enough progress to think they could build a machine, but would need money to do it. The pair, joined by Anupam Ghildyal, a serial start-up veteran who had become part of the VulcanForms team, went to Silicon Valley. They secured a seed round of $2 million from Eclipse Ventures.

The VulcanForms technology, recalled Greg Reichow, a partner at Eclipse, was trying to address the three shortcomings of 3-D printing: too slow, too expensive and too ridden with defects.

Arwood Machine this year.

Arwood is a modern machine shop that mostly does work for the Pentagon, making parts for fighter jets, underwater drones and missiles. Under VulcanForms, the plan over the next few years is for Arwood to triple its investment and work force, currently 90 people.

VulcanForms, a private company, does not disclose its revenue. But it said sales were climbing rapidly, while orders were rising tenfold quarter by quarter.

Cerebras, which makes specialized semiconductor systems for artificial intelligence applications. Cerebras sought out VulcanForms last year for help making a complex part for water-cooling its powerful computer processors.

The semiconductor company sent VulcanForms a computer-design drawing of the concept, an intricate web of tiny titanium tubes. Within 48 hours VulcanForms had come back with a part, recalled Andrew Feldman, chief executive of Cerebras. Engineers for both companies worked on further refinements, and the cooling system is now in use.

Accelerating the pace of experimentation and innovation is one promise of additive manufacturing. But modern 3-D printing, Mr. Feldman said, also allows engineers to make new, complex designs that improve performance. “We couldn’t have made that water-cooling part any other way,” Mr. Feldman said.

“Additive manufacturing lets us rethink how we build things,” he said. “That’s where we are now, and that’s a big change.”

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Stake – Cash Back and Banking Services for Renters –  Raises $12 Million in Series A Funding

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Stake, which provides Cash Back and banking services to renters, announced today the completion of its $12 million Series A financing round. With Stake, renters earn Cash Back when they take positive actions, like signing a lease and paying rent. Owners save money with every renter action.

The round was led by RET Ventures, which selected Stake as one of the first investments for the new RET Ventures ESG Fund (the “Housing Impact Fund”). Participation also included: Enterprise Community Partners, which, since 1982, has helped create or preserve 873,000 homes; Hometeam Ventures; Operator Stack; and Second Century Ventures, the investment arm of the National Association of Realtors. Existing investors Shadow Ventures and Olive Tree Ventures also participated in the round.

Today more than 44 million American households pay rent every month, and from 1985 to 2020, median rent prices increased by nearly 150% despite income growing just 35%. Leveraging behavioral science, Stake was founded in 2018 to empower renters by providing them with Cash Back on their rent as well as no-fee banking services to build savings. Stake also mitigates pain points for building owners, increasing lease-ups, reducing economic vacancy, improving maintenance, and increasing ancillary revenue.

Using Stake, property managers receive a 130% return on every dollar spent. Renters earn an average of 4% Cash Back on their rent each month. Across the $385 million in annual leases connected to the platform, 65% of renters have more money in their Stake account than any other banking account. In the past year, the number of residences that offer Cash Back with Stake has grown by 10x.

“Renters don’t need more debt or loans,” noted Rowland Hobbs, Co-Founder and CEO of Stake. “What renters need is money to help with everyday essentials and to establish long-term savings. With Stake, we have reimagined the classic ‘rainy day fund’ for renters to build the sort of wealth traditionally associated with home ownership. Now, their largest expense is also their largest source of savings.”

The new funding round will enable Stake to continue building out its financial infrastructure and suite of solutions that address difficult issues for renters and property owners alike.

“Stake’s approach to housing affordability is perfectly aligned with the mission of our ESG-centric fund,” said John Helm, partner at RET Ventures, who will join Stake’s board. “While a slew of platforms offer renters innovative payment options, they are all credit or debt-based. They ultimately encourage dangerous behaviors as part of their proposed solution. Stake flips the script on this model by offering a risk-free, renter-centric, efficient, and easy-to-use pathway toward building wealth.”

“Unlike homeowners, renters rarely reap financial benefits from paying for their homes – and families who rent tell us they could use a little extra cash each month. This is why Stake’s goal of empowering more economically resilient renters through cash back and no-fee banking services resonated with us,” said Enterprise Community Partners President and CEO Priscilla Almodovar. “It’s not just a good deal for renters. It makes sense for landlords, too, who are more likely to retain residents, which in turn strengthens communities.”

About Stake

Stake is building the financial infrastructure for the next generation of rentals. Stake aligns incentives between renters, operators, owners, and investors, so everyone earns the Return on Rent™ they deserve. Stake’s revenue management tools outperform, returning 130% on every dollar spent. These savings return millions of dollars to renters each year in the Stake app. Thousands of renters use Stake to earn Cash Back, grow their savings, and access free and equitable banking services. Headquartered in New York City and Seattle, Stake is on a mission to empower wealthier, happier, and more resilient renters. For more information, please visit https://www.stake.rent/

About RET Ventures

A leading real estate technology investment firm, RET Ventures is the first industry-backed, early-stage venture fund strategically focused on building cutting-edge “rent tech” — technology for multifamily and single-family rental real estate. RET invests out of core venture funds and a Housing Impact Fund, backing companies that address a range of pain points for real estate operators. Through its deep expertise and connections, RET provides solutions to issues ranging from housing affordability and sustainability to risk management and operational efficiency. The firm’s Strategic Investors include some of the largest REITs and private real estate owner-operators and managers, who control approximately 2.4 million rental units worth $600 billion. For more information, please visit www.ret.vc

About Enterprise Community Partners

Enterprise is a national nonprofit that exists to make a good home possible for the millions of families without one. We support community development organizations on the ground, aggregate and invest capital for impact, advance housing policy at every level of government, and build and manage communities ourselves. Since 1982, we have invested $54 billion and created 873,000 homes across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico – all to make home and community places of pride, power and belonging. Join us at enterprisecommunity.org.

*Stake is a financial technology company and is not a bank. Banking services provided by Blue Ridge Bank N.A; Member FDIC. The Stake Visa® Debit Card is issued by Blue Ridge Bank N.A. pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

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Payment Data Could Become Evidence of Abortion, Now Illegal in Some States

Digital payments are the default for millions of women of childbearing age. So what will their credit and debit card issuers and financial app providers do when prosecutors seek their transaction data during abortion investigations?

It’s a hypothetical question that’s almost certainly an inevitable one in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade last week. Now that abortion is illegal in several states, criminal investigators will soon begin their hunt for evidence to prosecute those they say violated the law.

Medical records are likely to be the most definitive proof of what now is a crime, but officials who cannot get those may look for evidence elsewhere. The payment trail is likely to be a high priority.

HIPAA — which governs the privacy of a patient’s health records — permits medical and billing records to be released in response to a warrant or subpoena.

“There is a very broad exception to the HIPAA protections for law enforcement,” said Marcy Wilder, a partner and co-head of the global privacy and cybersecurity practice at Hogan Lovells, a law firm. But Ms. Wilder added that the information shared with law enforcement officials could not be overly broad or unrelated to the request. “That is why it matters how companies and health plans are interpreting this.”

Card issuers and networks like Visa and Mastercard generally do not have itemized lists of everything that people pay for when they shop for prescription drugs or other medications online, or when they purchase services at health care providers. But evidence of patronage of, say, a pharmacy that sells only abortion pills could give someone away.

a new state law authorizes residents to file lawsuits against anyone who helped facilitate an abortion.

“With the ruling only coming down late last week, it’s premature to understand the full impact at the state level,” Brad Russell, a USAA spokesman, said via email. “However, USAA will always comply with all applicable laws.”

American Airlines Credit Union, Bank of America, Capital One, Discover, Goldman Sachs, Prosperity Bank USA, Navy Federal Credit Union, US Bank, University of Wisconsin Credit Union, Wells Fargo and Western Union did not return at least two messages seeking comment.

American Express, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo have all announced their intentions to reimburse employees for expenses if they travel to other states for abortions. So far, none have commented about how they would respond to a subpoena seeking the transaction records of the very employees who would be eligible for employer reimbursement.

Amie Stepanovich, vice president of U.S. policy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a nonprofit focused on data privacy and protection, said warrants and subpoenas can be accompanied by gag orders, which can prevent companies from even alerting their customers that they’re being investigated.

“They can choose to battle the use of gag orders in court,” she said. “Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t.”

In other instances, prosecutors may not say exactly what they’re investigating when they ask for transaction records. In that case, it’s up to the financial institution to request more information or try to figure it out on its own.

Paying for abortion services with cash is one possible way to avoid detection, even if it isn’t possible for people ordering pills online. Many abortion funds pay on behalf of people who need financial help.

But cash and electronic transfers of money are not entirely foolproof.

“Even if you are paying with cash, the amount of residual information that can be used to reveal health status and pregnancy status is fairly significant,” said Ms. Stepanovich, referring to potential bread crumbs such as the use of a retailer’s loyalty program or location tracking on a mobile phone when making a cash purchase.

In some cases, users may inadvertently give up sensitive information themselves through apps that track and share their financial behavior.

“The purchase of a pregnancy test on an app where financial history is public is probably the biggest red flag,” Ms. Stepanovich said.

Other advocates mentioned the possibility of using prepaid cards in fixed amounts, like the kinds that people can buy off a rack in a drugstore. Cryptocurrency, they added, usually does leave enough of a trail that achieving anonymity is challenging.

One thing that every expert emphasized is the lack of certainty. But there is an emerging gut feeling that corporations will be in the spotlight at least as much as judges.

“Now, these payment companies are going to be front and center in the fight,” Ms. Caraballo said.

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The Pozek Group Joins The Real Brokerage

TORONTO & NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Real Brokerage Inc. (“Real” or the “Company”) (NASDAQ: REAX) (TSXV: REAX), an international, technology-powered real estate brokerage, today announced that The Pozek Group, based in Orlando, Florida, is joining its growing network of agents.

The Pozek Group has a team of 17 agents who will be joining Real. The Pozek Group was founded by Ken Pozek in 2016. Starting in Michigan and eventually relocating to Florida, Pozek has been in the real estate industry for more than seventeen years. Over the past 12 months, the group has closed $170 million in transaction volume and has significant goals for the remainder of 2022.

“I think we have a unique opportunity to grow something with Real, which is attracting some of the most highly respected people in the industry,” said Ken Pozek. “The revenue share and equity awards are also great incentives. I like knowing that I can add that to my agents’ toolbox, while helping them grow independently and as part of our team.”

“We are happy to welcome The Pozek Group to the Real family,” said Real Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tamir Poleg. “Florida is a big market for us, and we have seen significant growth in the Orlando area. To have Ken and his team join Real will only increase our footprint in the area, and we look forward to working with them to serve even more buyers and sellers in the state.”

About Real

The Real Brokerage Inc. (NASDAQ: REAX) (TSXV: REAX) is revolutionizing the residential real estate industry by pairing best-in-class technology with the trusted guidance of the agent-led experience. Real delivers a cloud-based platform to improve efficiencies and empower agents to provide a seamless end-to-end experience for homebuyers and sellers. The company was founded in 2014 and serves 44 states, D.C., and two Canadian provinces with over 5,000 agents. Additional information can be found on its website at www.joinreal.com.

Forward-Looking Information

This press release contains forward-looking information within the meaning of applicable Canadian securities laws. Forward-looking information is often, but not always, identified by the use of words such as “seek”, “anticipate”, “believe”, “plan”, “estimate”, “expect”, “likely” and “intend” and statements that an event or result “may”, “will”, “should”, “could” or “might” occur or be achieved and other similar expressions. These statements reflect management’s current beliefs and are based on information currently available to management as at the date hereof. Forward-looking information in this press release includes, without limiting the foregoing, information relating to The Pozek Group joining Real, and the business and strategic plans of Real.

Forward-looking information is based on assumptions that may prove to be incorrect, including but not limited to Real’s business objectives, expected growth, results of operations, performance, business projects and opportunities and financial results. Real considers these assumptions to be reasonable in the circumstances. However, forward-looking information is subject to known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual results, performance or achievements to differ materially from those expressed or implied in the forward-looking information. These factors should be carefully considered and readers should not place undue reliance on the forward-looking statements. Although the forward-looking statements contained in this press release are based upon what management believes to be reasonable assumptions, Real cannot assure readers that actual results will be consistent with these forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are made as of the date of this press release, and Real assumes no obligation to update or revise them to reflect new events or circumstances, except as required by law.

Neither TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release, and the NASDAQ has neither approved nor disapproved the contents of this press release.

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YARDZ Graduates from Tech Alpharetta

ALPHARETTA, Ga.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Tech Alpharetta, the nonprofit organization helping the City of Alpharetta to lead in innovation, announces that YARDZ has graduated from its Innovation Center.

YARDZ becomes the 20th graduate from Tech Alpharetta’s startup incubator, which opened in the City of Alpharetta in 2015.

YARDZ is a construction asset tracking platform that enables its construction industry customers to aggregate, automate, and manage the lifecycle of equipment rented or owned by those customers. YARDZ joined Tech Alpharetta in March 2020. The company has grown significantly since its founding, outgrowing its Innovation Center office, and now, headquartering in the City of Alpharetta.

“YARDZ’s team members worked long hours at our Center every day for more than two years, but they always found the time to pay it forward, by volunteering their time and expertise to other entrepreneurs and to the community,” notes Tech Alpharetta President and CEO, Karen Cashion. “We’re so happy that they’ve chosen to headquarter and grow their company here in Alpharetta.”

“Tech Alpharetta provided us with so much valuable support, from introductions and connections, to mentoring and resources, along with a welcoming community of tech entrepreneurs,” shares YARDZ co-founder and CEO Jason Perez. “Headquartering here in Alpharetta was the obvious choice for us.”

Tech Alpharetta’s Innovation Center is a thriving tech-startup incubator in Alpharetta that provides education, mentoring and other resources to its startup members to help them grow and succeed.

About Tech Alpharetta

Tech Alpharetta (previously the Alpharetta Technology Commission), the first organization of its kind in Georgia, was established in 2012 by the City of Alpharetta and is an independent, 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization today. The organization, whose mission is to help grow technology and innovation in Alpharetta, includes a strategic advisory board of Alpharetta’s leading technology companies, thought leadership events for area tech executives, and the Tech Alpharetta Innovation Center, a flourishing tech startup incubator that is home to more than 40 tech startups.

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Ukraine War’s Latest Victim? The Fight Against Climate Change.

BERLIN — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seemed like an unexpected opportunity for environmentalists, who had struggled to focus the world’s attention on the kind of energy independence that renewable resources can offer. With the West trying to wean itself from Russian oil and gas, the argument for solar and wind power seemed stronger than ever.

But four months into the war, the scramble to replace Russian fossil fuels has triggered the exact opposite. As the heads of the Group of 7 industrialized nations gather in the Bavarian Alps for a meeting that was supposed to cement their commitment to the fight against climate change, fossil fuels are having a wartime resurgence, with the leaders more focused on bringing down the price of oil and gas than immediately reducing their emissions.

Nations are reversing plans to stop burning coal. They are scrambling for more oil and are committing billions to building terminals for liquefied natural gas, known as L.N.G.

coal plants that had been shuttered or were scheduled to be phased out.

as top economic officials in Ukraine, say it would serve two key purposes: increasing the global supply of oil to put downward pressure on oil and gasoline prices, while reducing Russia’s oil revenue.

Proponents say it is likely that Russia would continue to produce and sell oil even at a discount because it would be easier and more economical than capping wells to cut production. Simon Johnson, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, estimates that it could be in Russia’s economic interest to continue selling oil with a price cap as low as $10 a barrel.

Some proponents say it is possible that China and India would also insist on paying the discounted price, further driving down Russian revenues.

floating ones.

Critics charge that building all 12 terminals would produce an excess capacity. But even half that number would produce three-quarters of the carbon emissions Germany is allowed under international agreements, according to a recent report published by a German environmental watchdog. The terminals would be in use until 2043, far too long for Germany to become carbon neutral by 2045, as pledged by Mr. Scholz’s government.

And countries are not just investing in infrastructure at home.

Last month, Mr. Scholz was in Senegal, one of the developing countries invited to the Group of 7 summit, to discuss cooperating not just on renewables but also on gas extraction and L.N.G. production.

In promoting the Senegal gas project, analysts say, Berlin is violating its own Group of 7 commitment not to offer public financing guarantees for fossil fuel projects abroad.

These contradictions have not gone unnoticed by poorer nations, which are wondering how Group of 7 countries can push for commitments to climate targets while also investing in gas production and distribution.

One explanation is a level of lobbying among fossil fuel companies not seen for years, activists say.

“It looks to me like an attempt by the oil and gas industry to end-run the Paris Agreement,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, an advisory group in Berlin, referring to the landmark 2015 international treaty on climate change. “And I’m very worried they might succeed.”

Ms. Morgan in the German Foreign Ministry shares some of these concerns. “They’re doing everything that they can to move it forward, also in Africa,” she said of the industry. “They want to lock it in. Not just gas, but oil and gas and coal.”

But she and others are still hopeful that the Group of 7 can become a platform for tying climate goals to energy security.

Environmental and foreign policy analysts argue that the Group of 7 could support investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, while pledging funds for poorer nations hit with the brunt of climate disasters.

Above all, activists warn, rich countries need to resist the temptation to react to the short-term energy shortages by once again betting on fossil fuel infrastructure.

“All the arguments are on the table now,” said Ms. Neubauer, the Fridays for Future activist. “We know exactly what fossil fuels do to the climate. We also know very well that Putin is not the only autocrat in the world. We know that no democracy can be truly free and secure as long as it depends on fossil fuel imports.”

Katrin Bennhold Bennhold reported from Berlin, and Jim Tankersley from Telfs, Austria. Erika Solomon and Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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How China Is Policing the Future

The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.

Now, even their future is under surveillance.

The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.

They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.

automating systemic discrimination and political repression.

to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.

“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.

ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.

China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.

The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.

Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.

Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.

It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.

Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.

A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.

Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.

The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.

The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”

Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.

When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.

Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.

While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”

These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.

The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.

In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.

With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.

Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.

In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.

The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.

The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.

At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”

Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.

As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”

When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.

The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.

Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.

Credit…Zhang Yuqiao

Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.

“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.

Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control. They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.

The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.

One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.

Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.

“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”

Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”

“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”

Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.

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