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Microsoft, Salesforce and Oracle working on Covid vaccination passport

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Brendan McDermid | Reuters

LONDON — A digital Covid vaccination passport is being jointly developed by a group of health and technology companies who anticipate that governments, airlines and other firms will soon start asking people for proof that they have been inoculated.

A coalition known as the Vaccination Credential Initiative — which includes Microsoft, Salesforce and Oracle, as well as U.S. health care non-profit Mayo Clinic — was announced on Thursday.

The VCI said it wants to develop technology that enables individuals to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials that can be stored in a digital wallet of their choice, such as the Apple Wallet or Google Pay. It suggested that anyone without a smartphone could receive paper printed with QR codes containing verifiable credentials.

The coalition said it will also try to develop new standards for confirming whether a person has or hasn’t been inoculated against the virus. Previously, citizens have used vaccination booklets to keep track of their travel vaccines but authorities rarely ask to see them.

“The goal of the Vaccination Credential Initiative is to empower individuals with digital access to their vaccination records,” said Paul Meyer, CEO of non-profit The Commons Project, which is a member of the coalition, in a statement.

He added that the technology should allow people “to safely return to travel, work, school, and life, while protecting their data privacy.”

Bill Patterson, an executive vice president and general manager at enterprise software firm Salesforce, said his company wants to help organizations “customize all aspects of the vaccination management lifecycle and integrate closely with other coalition members’ offerings, which will help us all get back to public life.”

“With a single platform to help deliver safe and continuous operations and deepen trust with customers and employees, this coalition will be crucial to support public health and wellbeing,” Patterson added.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Vaccine divides opinion

While many people can’t wait to protect themselves from the virus, some are adamant that they won’t get the jab, leaving populations divided into those that have been vaccinated and those that haven’t. In the U.K., one in five say they are unlikely to get the vaccine, according to YouGov research published in November, citing a variety of different reasons.

Millions of people around the world still don’t want to be vaccinated, according to opinion polls. Some fear needles, some believe in unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and some are worried about potential side effects. Others just don’t think getting vaccinated is necessary and would rather risk catching Covid.

As a result of the differing views, a debate could start to emerge in 2021. Should any restrictions be imposed on people who choose not to get vaccinated, given they can catch and spread the virus?

It’s a tricky subject but governments are already looking at introducing systems that would enable authorities, and possibly businesses, to tell if a person has had a Covid vaccine or not.

In December it emerged that Los Angeles County plans to let Covid vaccine recipients store proof of immunization in the Apple Wallet on their iPhone, which can also store tickets and boarding passes in digital form. Officials say it will first be used to remind people to get their second shot of the vaccine but it could, eventually, be used to gain access to concert venues or airline flights.

China has launched a health code app that shows whether a person is symptom-free in order to check into a hotel or use the subway. In Chile, citizens that have recovered from the coronavirus have been issued with “virus free” certificates.

On Dec. 28, Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa said the country will create a registry to show who has refused to be vaccinated and that the database could be shared across Europe.

Elsewhere, the CEO of Delta Air Lines, Ed Bastian, said in April that immunity passports could be used to help fliers feel more confident in their personal safety while traveling.

A spokesperson for Ryanair said “vaccination won’t be a requirement when flying Ryanair” when CNBC asked if it would ever prevent non-vaccinated people from flying on its aircraft. British Airways, Qantas, and easyJet did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Isra Black, a lecturer in law at the University of York, and Lisa Forsberg, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford who researches medical ethics, told CNBC that it “isn’t easy to say whether it would be ethically permissible for a state to impose restrictions” on people who refuse a jab.

The academics said in a joint statement via email that the answer will depend on factors like vaccine supply, the level of vaccination in the population, the nature of the restrictions on vaccine refusers, and how the restrictions are operationalized.

“We might think that there are strong, albeit not necessarily decisive, reasons in favor of some limitation on regaining pre-pandemic freedoms for individuals who refuse vaccination for Covid-19, for example, on their freedom to gather,” said Black and Forsberg. “There is the potential for unvaccinated individuals to contract a serious case of coronavirus, which we take would be bad for them, but could also negatively affect others, for example, if health resources have to be diverted away from non-Covid care.”

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How Parler deplatforming shows power of Amazon, cloud providers

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Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services.

CNBC

Getting kicked off Amazon Web Services is rare, but it has enormous consequences.

It happened this week, when Amazon dropped Parler, a social network that gained traction from conservatives after Twitter banned President Donald Trump and housed content that encouraged violence. Parler filed suit against Amazon in federal district court in an attempt to stop Amazon from suspending Parler’s account, and Amazon pushed back, requesting that the court deny Parler’s motion.

The incident demonstrates a type of power that Amazon wields almost uniquely because so many companies rely on it to deliver computing and data storage. Amazon controlled 45% of the cloud infrastructure in 2019, more than any other company, according to estimates from technology research company Gartner. The app survived without being listed in Apple and Google’s app stores, but getting sent away from Amazon’s cloud has left Parler absent from the internet for days.

Parler’s engineering team had built software that drew on computing resources from Amazon Web Services, and the company had been in talks with Amazon about adopting proprietary AWS database and artificial intelligence services, the company said in a district court filing on Wednesday.

It would take time to figure out how to perform similar functions on Parler’s own servers or a cloud other than AWS. And in the case of Parler, time is critical, because it came as the service was gaining attention and new users following Twitter’s Trump ban.

Parler’s engineers could learn to use other computing infrastructure, or the company could hire developers who already have that knowledge. But because no cloud provider is as popular as Amazon, people skilled in, say, Oracle’s cloud aren’t as as easy to find as those who know how to build on AWS.

The warnings were there

The swiftness with which Amazon acted shouldn’t come as a shock. Companies have been disclosing details about their deals with Amazon that warn of these kinds of sudden discontinuations for years.

In 2010, DNA sequencing company Complete Genomics said that “an interruption of services by Amazon Web Services, on whom we rely to deliver finished genomic data to our customers, would result in our customers not receiving their data on time.”

Gaming company Zynga warned about how its AWS foundation could quickly vanish when it filed the prospectus for its initial public offering in 2011. At the time, AWS hosted half of the traffic for Zynga’s games, such as FarmVille and Words with Friends, the company said.

“AWS may terminate the agreement without cause by providing 180 days prior written notice, and may terminate the agreement with 30 days prior written notice for cause, including any material default or breach of the agreement by us that we do not cure within the 30-day period,” Zynga said.

AWS can even terminate or suspend its agreement with a customer immediately under certain circumstances as it did in 2010 with Wikileaks, pointing to violations of AWS’ terms of service.

Parler started using AWS in 2018, long after the Wikileaks incident and the first corporate disclosures about the possibility of cloud interruptions.

When AWS told Parler it planned to suspend Parler’s AWS account, it said Parler had violated the terms repeatedly, including by not owning or controlling the rights to its content.

Over the course of several weeks, AWS alerted Parler to instances of user content that encouraged violence, Amazon said in a court filing. More of that content surfaced after protesters stormed the Capitol building in Washington on Jan. 6, interrupting Congress’ confirmation of the Electoral College results from the 2020 presidential election. AWS conveyed that Parler wasn’t doing enough to speedily remove that sort of information from its social network.

Parler could have protected itself more. Large AWS customers can sign up for more extensive agreements, which allow more customers time to get into compliance if they wind up breaking rules.

Gartner analyst Lydia Leong spelled out this difference in a blog post: “Thirty days is a common timeframe specified as a cure period in contracts (and is the cure period in the AWS standard Enterprise Agreement), but cloud provider click-through agreements (such as the AWS Customer Agreement) do not normally have a cure period, allowing immediate action to be taken at the provider’s discretion,” she wrote.

Other cloud providers have their own terms their customers must follow. AWS now has millions of customers, though, and it holds more of the cloud infrastructure market than any other provider. As a result, many organizations could be exposed to the sort of treatment Parler received, rare as it is, if they don’t behave in accordance with Amazon’s standards.

Parler recognized the drawbacks of being beholden to a cloud provider, but ultimately, the flexibility clouds offer was too appealing to ignore. “I’m personally very anti-cloud and anti-centralization, though AWS has its place for high-burst traffic,” Alexander Blair, Parler’s technology chief, wrote in a post on the service.

Parler and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

WATCH: Apple pulls Parler from App Store amid crackdown on violent posts



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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained at Moscow airport

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Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was detained by Russian police at passport control late on Sunday after flying back to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned last summer, a Reuters witness said.

Russia’s FSIN prison authority confirmed that officers had detained the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, the Interfax news agency reported.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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House opens probe into security failures in deadly U.S. Capitol attack

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters next to U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as House Democrats respond to a White House briefing on reports Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops during a news conference following the briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Saturday sent a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray and other agency chiefs seeking information on the intelligence and security failures that led up to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that forced lawmakers into hiding.

Four House committee chairs signed onto the letter, which called for documents and briefings from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Director of National Intelligence on what was known ahead of the attack.

“This still-emerging story is one of astounding bravery by some U.S. Capitol Police and other officers; of staggering treachery by violent criminals; and of apparent and high-level failures — in particular, with respect to intelligence and security preparedness,” the committees wrote.

The letter was signed by Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. and Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. 

The probe comes as lawmakers — and Democrats in particular — are clamoring for more information on how a mob of President Donald Trump supporters was able to break into the so-called “People’s House,” which has its own police force, and delay the certification of President-elect Joe Biden‘s Electoral College victory by several hours.

The inspectors general of the Department of Justice, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior have launched reviews of their agency’s actions connected to the attack.

In the letter, lawmakers cited press reporting that the U.S. Capitol Police had been warned that Trump supporters would attempt to violently enter into the Capitol.

NBC News reported on Jan. 10 that the FBI and the New York Police Department passed information to the Capitol Police about threats of violence directed at the counting of the Electoral College votes.

The Washington Post reported on Jan. 12 that an FBI field office in Virginia had warned ahead of the attack that extremists headed to Washington were planning for “war.”

“Security and logistical preparations before January 6 were not consistent with the prospect of serious and widespread violence. Yet, according to media accounts that have surfaced in recent days, federal and other authorities earlier on possessed — and may have shared with some parties — intelligence and other information forecasting a dire security threat against the Congress’s meeting to certify the election results,” the committee chairs wrote.

“These latter reports, if acted upon, might have prompted more extensive planning for the event, and the infusion of far greater security and other resources,” they added.

Capitol Police officials have said they did not see FBI intelligence ahead of the attack.

The committee chairs lay out three broad lines of inquiry that they will pursue.

The first is what was known by the intelligence community and law enforcement ahead of, during and after the attack. The lawmakers also said they will be probing whether any foreign powers played a role in exploiting the crisis.

The second prong the committees are examining is whether any current or former holders of national security clearances participated in the insurrection.

The committees are also asking for information on government policy in response to the attack, including measures to prevent those implicated in crimes from traveling.

“The Committees expect and appreciate your full cooperation with this matter – while of course recognizing that resources appropriately and immediately must be allocated to efforts to counter any continuing threats to the transfer of power, including the presidential inauguration and related activities,” the committee chairs wrote.

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