Microsoft Exec Says Targeting of Americans’ Records ‘Routine’

Federal law enforcement agencies secretly seek the data of Microsoft customers thousands of times a year, according to congressional testimony Wednesday by a senior executive at the technology company.Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust, told members of the House Judiciary Committee that federal law enforcement in recent years has been presenting the company with between 2,400 to 3,500 secrecy orders a year, or about seven to 10 a day.”Most shocking is just how routine secrecy orders have become when law enforcement targets an American’s email, text messages or other sensitive data stored in the cloud,” said Burt, describing the widespread clandestine surveillance as a major shift from historical norms.The relationship between law enforcement and Big Tech has attracted fresh scrutiny in recent weeks with the revelation that Trump-era Justice Department prosecutors obtained as part of leak investigations phone records belonging not only to journalists but also to members of Congress and their staffers. Microsoft, for instance, was among the companies that turned over records under a court order, and because of a gag order, had to then wait more than two years before disclosing it.Since then, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, called for an end to the overuse of secret gag orders, arguing in a Washington Post opinion piece that “prosecutors too often are exploiting technology to abuse our fundamental freedoms.” Attorney General Merrick Garland, meanwhile, has said the Justice Department will abandon its practice of seizing reporter records and will formalize that stance soon.Burt is among the witnesses at a Judiciary Committee hearing about potential legislative solutions to intrusive leak investigations.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in opening remarks Wednesday that the Justice Department took advantage of outdated policies on digital data searches to target journalists and others in leak investigations. The New York Democrat said that reforms are needed now to guard against future overreach by federal prosecutors — an idea also expressed by Republicans on the committee.”We cannot trust the department to police itself,” Nadler said.Burt said that while the revelation that federal prosecutors had sought data about journalists and political figures was shocking to many Americans, the scope of surveillance is much broader. He criticized prosecutors for reflexively seeking secrecy through boilerplate requests that “enable law enforcement to just simply assert a conclusion that a secrecy order is necessary.”Burt said that while Microsoft Corp. does cooperate with law enforcement on a broad range of criminal and national security investigations, it often challenges surveillance that it sees as unnecessary, resulting at times in advance notice to the account being targeted.Among the organizations weighing in at the hearing was The Associated Press, which called on Congress to act to protect journalists’ ability to promise confidentiality to their sources. Reporters must have prior notice and the ability to challenge a prosecutor’s efforts to seize data, said a statement submitted by Karen Kaiser, AP’s general counsel.”It is essential that reporters be able to credibly promise confidentially to ensure the public has the information needed to hold its government accountable and to help government agencies and officials function more effectively and with integrity,” Kaiser said.  As possible solutions, Burt said, the government should end indefinite secrecy orders and should also be required to notify the target of the data demand once the secrecy order has expired.Just this week, he said, prosecutors sought a blanket gag order affecting the government of a major U.S. city for a Microsoft data request targeting a single employee there.”Without reform, abuses will continue to occur and they will occur in the dark,” Burt said.


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Judge Dismisses Government Antitrust Lawsuits Against Facebook

A federal judge on Monday dismissed antitrust lawsuits brought against Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of state attorneys general, dealing a significant blow to attempts by regulators to rein in tech giants. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled Monday that the lawsuits were “legally insufficient” and didn’t provide enough evidence to prove that Facebook was a monopoly. The ruling dismisses the complaint but not the case, meaning the FTC could refile another complaint. “These allegations — which do not even provide an estimated actual figure or range for Facebook’s market share at any point over the past 10 years — ultimately fall short of plausibly establishing that Facebook holds market power,” he said. The U.S. government and 48 states and districts sued Facebook in December 2020, accusing the tech giant of abusing its market power in social networking to crush smaller competitors and seeking remedies that could include a forced spinoff of the social network’s Instagram and WhatsApp messaging services. The FTC had alleged Facebook engaged in a “a systematic strategy” to eliminate its competition, including by purchasing smaller up-and-coming rivals like Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. New York Attorney General Letitia James said when filing the suit that Facebook “used its monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users.” Boasberg dismissed the separate complaint made by the state attorneys general, as well. 
 


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Myanmar Violence Escalates With Rise of ‘Self-defense’ Groups, Report Says

Violence in post-coup Myanmar has escalated as anti-junta “self-defense” forces step up to take on the military, according to a new report warning of “enormous” human cost if the regime uses its full power in subsequent crackdowns.Myanmar has been in turmoil since the February coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, with more than 880 killed in a junta crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.In some areas, locals, often using hunting rifles or weapons manufactured at makeshift jungle factories, have formed “defense forces” to fight back.In response, the military has used helicopters and artillery, including against groups in northwestern Chin state and along the eastern border with Thailand.”Faced with armed insurrection, the Tatmadaw [the Myanmar military] can be expected to unleash its military might against civilians,” the International Crisis Group, a non-profit, non-governmental think tank that seeks to prevent conflict, said in its new report. “The human cost will be enormous –- particularly for women, children and the elderly, who face the greatest hardships from violence and displacement,” the report said.  Clashes have taken place in areas that have not seen conflict for decades, forcing humanitarian agencies to race to set up new operations and supply lines, the ICG said.An estimated 230,000 people have been displaced by fighting and insecurity so far, the United Nations said last week.  The self-defense groups add to the volatile mix in the poor Southeast Asian country, where more than 20 ethnic rebel groups were already in various stages of conflict with the state before the coup.As the economy collapses, the new militias may “seek sources of revenue beyond the ad hoc community donations that have so far sustained them,” the ICG warned.It is also unlikely that the shadow “National Unity Government,” formed largely of lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s ousted government, will be able to bring them under its control, it added.  Clashes involving civilian militias and the military have largely been restricted to rural areas.But last week, at least six people died in a gun battle between security forces and a self-defense group in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city. 


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Reparations Debate

As the United States grapples with the legacy of slavery and centuries of racial discrimination, host Carol Castiel talks with Jennifer Oast, professor and chair of the Department of History at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, and Noah Millman, political columnist for the Week,  about the merits and drawbacks of reparations for descendants of slaves and why the debate has been revived in recent days.


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Democrats Look Ahead After Voting Bill Setback

Issues in the News moderator Kim Lewis talks with VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson and senior correspondent for Marketplace Nancy Marshall-Genzer about Democrats’ vow to move forward on proposed legislation to strengthen voting rights in the US, President Joe Biden’s strategy to reduce violent crimes in cities across the US, expectations of Vice-President Kamala Harris’ visit to the U.S. border and other top stories of the week. 


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150 Death-row Inmates Start Hunger Strike in Sri Lanka

About 150 death-row inmates in Sri Lanka began a hunger strike to demand their sentences be commuted, prison officials said, after the nation’s president pardoned a former lawmaker who had been condemned for an election-related killing.The lawmaker’s surprise release Thursday after he was pardoned by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has drawn widespread criticism, including from the U.N. human rights office and the U.S. ambassador in Sri Lanka.Duminda Silva is widely seen as a favorite of Sri Lanka’s ruling Rajapaksa family and had been serving a death sentence over the killing of a rival lawmaker from his own party in an election-related attack about 10 years ago.About 150 inmates sentenced to death were striking, demanding their sentences be commuted to life terms, prison spokesman Chandana Ekanayake said Friday.He said prison officials were discussing with the Justice Ministry and other government officials to resolve the issue but declined to give further details.Sri Lankan prisons are highly congested with more than 26,000 inmates crowded in facilities with the capacity of 10,000.Unrest related to COVID-19 erupted in one prison last year, and at least eleven inmates were killed and more than 100 wounded when guards opened fire to control the unrest.Silva’s surprise release appeared to have set off the hunger strike.The United Nation’s Human Rights Office said Silva’s case “is another example of selective, arbitrary granting of pardons that weakens rule of law and undermines accountability.”U.S. Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz in a tweet on Thursday said the pardon of Silva “undermines rule of law.”Sri Lanka has not hanged a prisoner since 1976 even though courts routinely pass death sentences. Rajapaksa’s predecessor, Maithripala Sirisena, had vowed to end the moratorium on capital punishment and to use it against those convicted of drug crimes.Prison officials hired two executioners to carry out the hangings, but none took place during Sirisena’s tenure.  


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Fossil Find Adds to Evidence of Dinosaurs Living in Arctic Year-round

Fossils from tiny baby dinosaurs discovered in northernmost Alaska offer strong evidence that the prehistoric creatures lived year-round in the Arctic and were likely warm-blooded, according to a study published on Thursday in the journal Current Biology.The fossils are from at least seven types of dinosaurs just hatched or still in their eggs about 70 million years ago. Researchers have never found evidence of dinosaur nests so far north, said lead author Pat Druckenmiller, director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North.The find helps upend past assumptions of dinosaurs as giant cold-blooded reptiles.”If they reproduced, then they over-wintered there. If they overwintered there, they had to deal with conditions that we don’t usually associate with dinosaurs, like freezing conditions and snow,” Druckenmiller said.To survive dark Arctic winters, those dinosaurs could not have basked in the sun to warm their bodies, as lizards do, he said.”At least these groups had endothermy,” he said, using the term for the ability of animals to warm their bodies through internal functions. “They had a degree of warm-bloodedness.”The discovery site is a steep bluff on the Colville River on Alaska’s North Slope, at latitude 70 and about 400 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. In the Cretaceous period, when North America was positioned differently, it was even farther north, at latitude 80 or 85, Druckenmiller said.The region was much warmer then than Alaska’s North Slope is now but hardly tropical. From remnants of ancient plants, scientists calculate the average annual temperature at about 6 degrees Celsius – similar to Juneau, Alaska – meaning below-freezing winters with snow, Druckenmiller said.While Alaska’s North Slope endures two months of total winter darkness now, during the Cretaceous period it was in total darkness for up to four months a year, he said.Finding the tiny bones and teeth, some the size of a pinhead, was laborious, Druckenmiller said. They were identified through microscopic examination after being sifted out multiple times from sediments collected in expeditions stretching back decades, he said.”I liken it to gold panning. It’s a very slow process,” he said.The discovery site, called the Prince Creek Formation, has proved crucial to modern understanding of the ancient creatures.The first dinosaur discovery was made there in the 1960s by a petroleum geologist. Subsequent expeditions found previously unknown dinosaur species. Over time, evidence of year-round Arctic occupation has mounted.At the same formation, other scientists found a jawbone from a baby dromaeosaurid, detailed in a study published last year in the journal PLOS ONE. That meat-eating dinosaur would have been the size of a small puppy and incapable of long-distance migration, said co-author Tony Fiorillo, a Southern Methodist University paleontologist.The new study about nesting dinosaurs strengthens the growing realization that dinosaurs lived full-time in the Arctic and thus could not be cold-blooded, Fiorillo said.”This new study broadens the conversation about year-round dinosaurs in the Arctic. It didn’t invent the conversation,” he said. 


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Ukrainian Member of Cybercrime Gang Sentenced in US

A Ukrainian hacker was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in a notorious cybercrime group that stole millions of credit and debit card details from across the United States, the Department of Justice said Thursday.Andrii Kolpakov, 33, was also ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, the department said in a press release.Kolpakov’s lawyer, Vadim Glozman, said his client was disappointed with the sentence but respected the judge’s decision.He said Kolpakov — who has already spent three years in custody after being apprehended by police in Spain in 2018 — planned to return to Ukraine after serving out the remainder of his sentence.Kolpakov was sentenced in the Western District of Washington. Glozman said that his client was currently in custody in Washington state.Kolpakov’s gang — dubbed “FIN7” — is among the most prolific cybercriminal enterprises in existence. A memo drawn up by U.S. prosecutors said that “no hacking group epitomizes the industrialization of cybercrime better,” alleging that the gang had over 70 people organized into discrete departments and teams, including a unit devoted to crafting malicious software and another unit composed of hackers who exploited victims’ machines.For cover, FIN7 masqueraded as a cybersecurity company called “Combi Security,” which claimed to be involved in penetration testing.Prosecutors say Kolpakov worked for FIN7 from at least April 2016 until his arrest in June 2018 and rose to become a midlevel manager directing “a small team of hackers” tasked with breaching victims’ computer systems and training new recruits to use FIN7’s malicious tools.


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US Lawmakers in Marathon Debate on Big Tech Regulation Bills

U.S. lawmakers debated into the night Wednesday over details of legislation aimed at curbing the power of Big Tech firms with a sweeping reform of antitrust laws.The House Judiciary Committee clashed over a series of bills with potentially massive implications for large online platforms and consumers who use them.The legislation could force an overhaul of the business practices of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, or potentially lead to a breakup of the dominant tech giants. But critics argue the measures could have unintended consequences that would hurt consumers and some of the most popular online services.Rep. David Cicilline, who headed a 16-month investigation that led to the legislation, said the bills are aimed at restoring competition in markets stymied by monopolies.”The digital marketplace suffers from a lack of competition. Many digital markets are defined by monopolies or duopoly control,” Cicilline said as the hearing opened.”Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are gatekeepers to the online economy. They bury or by rivals and abuse their monopoly power conduct that is harmful to consumers, competition, innovation and our democracy.”The bills would restrict how online platforms operate, notably whether tech giants operating them could favor their own products or services.The measures would also limit mergers or acquisitions by Big Tech firms aimed at limiting competition and make it easier for users to try new services by requiring data “portability” and “interoperability.”The fate of the bills remained unclear, with some Republicans and moderate Democrats expressing concerns despite bipartisan support.Clash points included whether it is right to target laws at four big tech companies and whether government agencies will hobble them instead of letting them adapt to competition.”The interoperability measure is a huge step backwards,” said Oregon Republican Cliff Bentz. “Big Tech is certainly not perfect. This bill is not the way to fix the problem.”Representative Zoe Lofgren said she hoped the bill would include more measures for data privacy and security but endorses the concept.“The big platforms have all your information. And if you can’t move it, then you’re really a prisoner of that platform,” she said. “Who wants to leave a platform if they’ve got all your baby pictures and all of your videos of your grandchildren, locked up?”As the session stretched into the night, some members of the body lobbied to adjourn and resume the work another day.’They make it worse’Republican Representative Ken Buck, a supporter of the overhaul, said the legislation “represents a scalpel, not a chainsaw, to deal with the most important aspects of antitrust reform,” in dealing with “these monopolists (who) routinely use their gatekeeper power to crush competitors, harm innovation and destroy the free market.”But Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican, criticized the effort, renewing his argument that Big Tech firms suppress conservative voices.”These bills don’t fix that problem — they make it worse,” Jordan said. “They don’t break up Big Tech. They don’t stop censorship.”Steve Chabot, another Republican, called the initiative “an effort for big government to take over Big Tech.”The panel approved on a 29-12 vote a bill that was the least controversial, increasing merger filing fees to give more funding for antitrust enforcement.Tech firms and others warned of negative consequences for popular services people rely on, potentially forcing Apple to remove its messaging apps from the iPhone or Google to stop displaying results from YouTube or Maps.Apple released a report arguing that one likely impact — opening up the iPhone to apps from outside platforms — could create security and privacy risks for users.Forcing Apple to allow “sideloading” of apps would mean “malicious actors would take advantage of the opportunity by devoting more resources to develop sophisticated attacks targeting iOS users,” the report said.Amazon vice president Brian Huseman warned of “significant negative effects” both for sellers and consumers using the e-commerce platform, and reduced-price competition.”It will be much harder for these third-party sellers to create awareness for their business,” Huseman said.”Removing the selection of these sellers from Amazon’s store would also create less price competition for products, and likely end up increasing prices for consumers. The committee is moving unnecessarily fast in pushing these bills forward.”The measures may also impact other firms including Microsoft, which has not been the focus of the House antitrust investigation but which links services such as Teams messaging and Bing search to its Windows platform, and possibly other firms. 


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McAfee Antivirus Software Creator Found Dead in Spanish Prison

John McAfee, creator of the McAfee antivirus software, has been found dead in his cell in a jail near Barcelona, a government official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
 
Hours earlier, a Spanish court issued a preliminary ruling in favor of the 75-year-old tycoon’s extradition to the United States to face tax-related criminal charges.
 
Security personnel at the Brians 2 penitentiary near the northeastern Spanish city tried to revive him, but the jail’s medical team finally certified his death, a statement from the regional Catalan government said.
 
The statement didn’t identify McAfee by name, but said he was a 75-year-old U.S. citizen awaiting extradition to his country. A Catalan government source familiar with the event who was not authorized to be named in media reports confirmed to the AP that the dead man was McAfee.
 
Spain’s National Court on Monday ruled in favor of extraditing McAfee, who had argued in a hearing earlier this month that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he would spend the rest of his life in prison if he was returned to the U.S.
 
The court’s ruling was made public on Wednesday and could be appealed. Any final extradition order would also need to get approval from the Spanish Cabinet.
 
Tennessee prosecutors charged McAfee with evading taxes after failing to report income made from promoting cryptocurrencies while he did consultancy work, as well as income from speaking engagements and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary. The criminal charges carry a prison sentence of up to 30 years.
 
The entrepreneur was arrested last October at Barcelona’s international airport. A judge ordered at that time that McAfee should be held in jail while awaiting the outcome of a hearing on extradition. 


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Drive On Water With This Car-Designed Speed-Boat

While tourists usually enjoy beautiful sandy beaches and clear waters along the Northern Coast of Egypt, they are set for an additional attraction this year with the launch of the first locally manufactured car-shaped vehicle that can drive over water. Manufactured by three friends, the vehicle is mainly produced using local material and by local talent apart from the engine, which comes from Japan. The friends have produced 12 vehicles and received many orders upon the reveal of the vehicle. Each vehicle takes three weeks to produce and is priced between $19,000 and $44,500. (Reuters)  


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Cyberbullying Trial Tests French Tools to Fight Online Abuse

A landmark cyberbullying trial in Paris, involving thousands of threats against a teenager who savaged Islam in online posts, is blazing a trail in efforts to punish and prevent online abuse.It has also raised uncomfortable questions about freedom of expression, freedom to criticize a religion, and respect for France’s millions of Muslims. But most of all, it’s been a trial about the power of the online word, and prosecutors hope it serves as a wake-up call to those who treat it lightly.Thirteen young people of various backgrounds and religions from across France face potential prison time for charges including online harassment, online death threats and online rape threats in the two-day trial wrapping up Tuesday. It’s the first of its kind since France created a new court in January to prosecute online crimes, including harassment and discrimination.Tweet or post without thinkingOne of the defendants wants to become a police officer. Another says he just wanted to rack up more followers by making people laugh. Some denied wrongdoing, others apologized. Most said they tweeted or posted without thinking.The teen at the center of the trial, who has been identified publicly only by her first name, Mila, told the court she feels as if she’s been “condemned to death.””I do not see my future,” she said.Mila, who describes herself as atheist, was 16 when she started posting videos on Instagram and later TikTok harshly criticizing Islam and the Quran. Now 18, she testified that “I don’t like any religion, not just Islam.”Her lawyer Richard Malka said Mila has received some 100,000 threatening messages, including death threats, rape threats, misogynist messages and hateful messages about her homosexuality.Quit high school twiceMila had to quit her high school, then another. She is now monitored daily by the police for her safety.”It’s been a cataclysm, it feels like the sky is falling on our heads … a confrontation with pure hatred,” her mother told the court.Mila’s online enemies don’t fit a single profile. Among the thousands of threats, authorities tracked down 13 suspects who are on trial this week. All are being identified publicly only by their first names, according to French practice.TikTok videoThe trial focused on comments in response to a TikTok video by Mila in November criticizing Islam. A defendant named Manfred threatened to turn her into another Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded outside Paris in October after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.Manfred told the court he was “pretending to be a stalker to make people laugh.””I knew she was controversial because she criticized Islam. I wanted to have fun and get new subscribers,” he testified.Defendant Enzo, 22, apologized in court for tweeting “you deserve to have your throat slit,” followed by a sexist epithet.Others argued their posts didn’t constitute a crime.”At the time, I was not aware that it was harassment. When I posted the tweet, I wasn’t thinking,” testified Lauren, a 21-year-old university student who tweeted about Mila: “Have her skull crushed, please.”Stands by criticismAlyssa, 20, one of the few Muslim defendants, says she reacted “like everyone else on Twitter” and stood by her criticism of Mila’s posts.While the defense lawyer argued that it’s not the same thing to insult a god or a religion and a human being, Alyssa disagreed.”For me, it is of the same nature. Mila used freedom of expression; I thought that (tweeting an angry response) was also freedom of expression,” she said.Freedom of expression is considered a fundamental right and blasphemy is not a crime in France. After Mila’s initial video in January 2020, a legal complaint was filed against her for incitement to racial hatred. That investigation was dropped for lack of evidence.Some French Muslims feel that their country, and President Emmanuel Macron’s government, unfairly stigmatize their religious practices.French society dividedMila’s online videos rekindled those concerns and divided French society. While the threats against her were broadly condemned, former Socialist President Francois Hollande was among those who argued that while she has the right to criticize religion, “she should not engage in hate speech about those who practice their religion.”Nawfel, 19, didn’t see the harm when he tweeted that Mila deserved the death penalty and insulted her sexuality. He has passed tests to become a gendarme and hopes not to be sentenced, to keep a clean record. The trial has given him new perspective on online activity.”Without social media, everyone would have a normal life,” he said. “Now there are many people who will think before they write.”Prison time, finesThe defendants face up to two years in prison and 30,000 euros in fines (about $37,000) if convicted of online harassment. Some are also accused of online death threats, an offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of three years and a fine of up to 45,000 euros ($55,000).The prosecutor, however, requested suspended sentences. A verdict is expected July 9.”You have the power to stop this digital lynching,” defense lawyer Malka told the judges. “Fear of the law is the only thing that remains.”Mila remains active on social networks.”I have this need to show that I will not change who I am and what I think,” she said. “I see it as like a woman who has been raped in the street and who is asked not to go out, so that it doesn’t happen again.”


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EU Investigates Google’s Advertising Business

The European Union announced Tuesday it is once again investigating Google for what could be anti-competitive activities in digital advertising.The investigation will try to determine if Google is harming competitors by restricting third party access to user data that could better target advertising.”We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.Google said it would cooperate in the investigation.”Thousands of European businesses use our advertising products to reach new customers and fund their websites every single day. They choose them because they’re competitive and effective,” a Google spokesperson said.The EU has fined Google more than $9.5 billion over the past decade for restricting third parties from online shopping, Android phones and online advertising.In the past year, online ads generated $147 billion in revenue for the U.S.-based company.Google’s ad business also is facing scrutiny in the U.S., where several states and the U.S. Justice Department are suing the company for alleged anti-competitive behavior.  


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STEM Jobs Lead List of Fastest-Growing Occupations

The number of STEM jobs — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — have sped past the number of non-STEM jobs by three times since 2000. And experts say there might not be enough graduates in those fields to fill the jobs.  “Look around at how many times a day you touch a computer, tablet, phone … these industries are accelerating so much that these high school kids will have jobs that don’t even exist yet,” said Kenneth Hecht, the leader of the National STEM Honor Society, an membership program that engages students from kindergarten into their career in STEM project-based learning (NSTEM). STEM covers both high-tech and long-established professions. For example, STEM jobs in demand include those in cloud computing, informatics and other software developers that write code for computation. They also include occupations for actuaries, cartographers, critical care nurses and epidemiologists.  Jobs in the medical and healthcare fields have boomed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as populations age, but traditionally, computer technology, or tech, is the number one major that international students pursue within STEM, according to a study by the Institute of International Education. Jobs in computer and information technology are projected to grow 11% from 2019 to 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website, “much faster than the average for all occupations.”These occupations are projected to add about 531,200 new jobs to the U.S. workforce by 2029. Jobs in cloud computing, big data, and information security will be in high demand, according to BLS.COVID plus and minuses Recent enrollment declines because of the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed the pipeline between graduates and jobs, as most international students rode out the pandemic in their home countries. But recent graduates who land STEM jobs show greater availability and higher salaries.  “A STEM education and a STEM career can change the trajectory of one family’s path and even others,” said Kenneth Hecht, leader of the National STEM Honor Society that engages students from kindergarten into their career in STEM project-based learning (NSTEM).  Nidhi Thaker, a Ph.D. student in the biochemistry and molecular biology department at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, also is optimistic about the promise of STEM opportunities.    “Applying and combining a biology background with technology that can be helpful in making a product, and by product, I mean, it could be a machine, it could be a drug, it could be any other thing, to help medicine itself and to help the field grow,” is what biotechnology means to Thaker.   Her experience working in the Boston area, one of America’s biotech hubs and close to several top U.S. universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, has been largely positive.  “It’s not just work, work, work. They also incorporate, like, team-building exercises, going out and having parties and things like that,” Thaker noted. “It’s a very well rounded, cultural approach that they’re taking, in regard to giving all the benefits.”   Lack of people skills One problem, though, is many graduates have a proficiency in tech skills but lack people skills, said Sahil Jain, senior enterprise architect at Adobe.    “This means they are good at coding. You can give them a digest code, they will do it very well. But they cannot speak to the senior leadership at the customer site.” Jain explains that both soft and hard skills are necessary to do well in emerging technology jobs, yet students often excel at one or the other, not both.    “That means they are good at speaking, but when it comes to technicalities, the customer brings his architects on the call, ‘Oh, tell me how this will work? Can you give me some architectural aspects as well?’ … That is where the big gap is,” he explained. In addition, Jain said the STEM job market is crowded with numerous evolving technologies.    “The industry is evolving a lot. It’s no longer only cloud computing based. There are many, many areas of blockchain,” a way to code to enhance the security of the information.   “We have machine learning, we have [artificial intelligence] …” said Jain, who has recently enrolled in Georgia Institute of Techology, a public university in Atlanta, to keep his skills up to date.  Filling needed roles Even with initiatives to alert students to STEM opportunities, like NSTEM, there were an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled in STEM fields in 2018, according to a study by Impact Science, a California teacher-founded initiative to engage young students with science.“Being on the educational side, these numbers are well published and well recognized in the world, and the question is and has been, ‘What do you do about it?’” Hecht asked.  “If you look at the differences in ethnicities and gender it would be even worse,” which inspires one of NSTEM’s missions to help close equity divisions in STEM, he added.  Immigration issues An April 2021 study by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) found that “enrolling more international undergraduate students does not crowd out U.S. students at the average American university and leads to an increase in the number of bachelor’s degrees in STEM majors awarded to U.S. students.”  “Each additional 10 bachelor’s degrees—across all majors—awarded to international students by a college or university leads to an additional 15 bachelor’s degrees in STEM majors awarded to U.S. students,” the study found. The data suggests that U.S. students are more likely to major in STEM fields if they go to school with international students.    “In much of the U.S., STEM graduates are in short supply. Students who graduate with a STEM major typically earn more than other graduates, especially early in their careers,” according to the NFAP study.  “The finding here that the presence of international students actually increases the number of U.S. students graduating with a STEM major is another reason to encourage international students to come to the United States,” stated Madeline Zavodny, the study’s author.  “America’s future competitiveness depends on attracting and retaining talented international students,” according to companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter with other parties in a group letter to Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) in July 2020. ICE had announced it would revoke international student visas during the COVID-19 pandemic if those students were not in person to study on campus.  ICE Won’t Compel Foreign Students to Be on Campus Immigration agency retreats from ruling that risked student visa status


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