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Blinken says authoritarian regimes using tech to undermine democracy

Blinken says authoritarian regimes using tech to undermine democracy

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Blinken says authoritarian regimes using tech to undermine democracy

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday technology should be employed to sustain democratic values in the face of efforts by authoritarian and repressive regimes to deploy technology to undermine democracy and human rights.

Like-minded governments and their people were working together to promote free and fair elections, Blinken said, noting safeguarding democracy was a collective effort.

“As authoritarian and repressive regimes deploy technologies to undermine democracy and human rights, we need to ensure that technology sustains and supports democratic values and norms,” he said at the opening of the Summit for Democracy in South Korea.

Blinken said: “But AI is also a critical arena in which democracy is being challenged.

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“So while we seek to harness the power of AI and other digital technologies for good, some governments are abusing those same technologies to do just the opposite.

“They’re using AI tools, like facial recognition and bots, to surveil their own citizens. Harass journalists, human rights defenders, and political dissidents. Spread mis- and disinformation that undermines free and fair elections, or sets one segment of our societies against another.

“Our democracies are hardly immune to the harms from AI misuse and failure, including impacts from the choices that tech companies make in deploying their innovations – from our citizens being able to access fewer and less diverse media sources because of the failures of AI-enabled search engines, to discrimination and bias that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities.

“The United States is determined to shape the terms of our technological future in a way that’s inclusive, rights-respecting, that sustains democratic values and democratic institutions. We’ve made historic investments in our technological capabilities and those of our democratic partners.

“At the same time, we’re pairing those investments with efforts to lead on the governance of artificial intelligence. Those include an executive order strengthening AI safety and security, privacy protections, and equity and civil rights, while promoting innovation. We’ve also set out an AI Risk Management Framework, a Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights, a new AI Safety Institute, voluntary commitments endorsed by 15 top tech companies, and an international code of conduct for organizations developing advanced AI systems.

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“We’re building broad and inclusive support to uphold safe, secure, and trustworthy AI. Just this week, the United Nations is set to adopt the first-ever standalone resolution on AI – focused on ensuring that AI is deployed to advance sustainable development and actually deliver progress in people’s lives. This resolution is led by the United States; it’s now co-sponsored by more than 75 countries. And to those who have not yet joined, we really invite you to do so.

“This unity reflects a strong global consensus in support of two equally important goals: that AI is safe, secure, and trustworthy, and that its benefits are actually shared by all. We must support governance and capacity building that narrows the digital divide.

“AI is just one component of our broader democratic approach to technology.

“We’re countering government surveillance and the misuse of spyware.

“Last year, President Biden issued an executive order prohibiting the use of commercial spyware by the United States Government when its use poses security risks to our country – or where it could lead to misuse by a foreign actor, including to carry out human rights abuse or to suppress civil liberties.

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“Six countries just signed on to our joint statement on the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware. They join a 17-member-strong coalition that’s collaborating to make sure that spyware is used consistent with respect for universal human rights and for basic freedoms.

“We’re defending human rights defenders online. Today, we’re releasing first-of-its-kind guidance to give technology companies the tools to help prevent, mitigate, and seek justice for attacks on human rights defenders online.

“We’re protecting access to a free and open internet. Since 2023, the US Government has supported 30 million users of circumvention tools, like VPNs, to get around government internet blackouts each month through the Surge and Sustain Fund for Anti-Censorship Technology.

“The stakes of this work could not be greater. But again, seeing everyone here today, seeing the work that we’ll be doing over the next three days, the information we’ll be sharing, the best practices we’ll be working on together, that, again, gives me confidence that this is a challenge that we can not only embrace, but that we can succeed in meeting. If we can harness all of the extraordinary potential, all the extraordinary good in AI, while mitigating the downsides, we will – we will – advance progress for people in all of our countries and around the world.

“It’s a tremendous responsibility, but we have to meet it in this moment. Because again – I’ll close with this – this is moving so fast, it’s moving so quickly, that what is decided now and in the weeks and months ahead is going to shape the future for generations to come. So there’s urgency to this effort, and we’ll be much more effective, much stronger, when we work together.” 

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Thai court accepts complaint seeking PM’s removal over minister’s appointment

Thai court accepts complaint seeking PM’s removal over minister’s appointment

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Thai court accepts complaint seeking PM's removal over minister's appointment

Thailand’s Constitutional Court accepted a complaint on Thursday seeking to remove Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin over his cabinet appointment of a lawyer who served jail time, in a new legal setback for the government.

The decision comes after three ministers quit in recent weeks as the government battles to jumpstart an underperforming economy and find funds to deliver on a delayed election promise of cash handouts for 50 million people.

The court chose not to suspend Srettha from duty pending a verdict, as was sought by 40 senators who had complained Pichit Chuenban fell short of moral and ethical standards for ministers set out in the constitution.

Srettha has 15 days to file his defence in court. “The prime minister is focused and determined, this will not affect his work,” said government spokesperson Chai Wacharonke.

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Pichit’s qualifications prior to becoming a minister in the prime minister’s office had been carefully vetted and the appointment was in line with the law, he added.

For decades a close aide of the politically influential Shinawatra family, Pichit resigned on Tuesday in an effort to insulate Srettha from the court case.

He had been jailed for six months in 2008 for contempt of court after being accused of a bid to bribe court officials with 2 million baht ($55,218) placed in a grocery paper bag, which he denied. His law license was suspended for five years.

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As a lawyer, Pichit fought, and lost, big court cases against former premiers Yingluck Shinawatra and billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been a towering figure in Thailand for more than two decades.

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Thaksin is a close ally of Srettha and founder of his ruling Pheu Thai party, which together with its predecessors has won all but one Thai election since 2001.

The court gave no timeframe for a decision in the case.

If it dismisses Srettha, a new government must be formed and Pheu Thai would need to put forward a new candidate for premier to be voted on by a parliament in which it is not the biggest party.

VReal estate mogul Srettha was elected by the legislature in August last year after weeks of political deadlock, following a deal with parties and lawmakers allied with the royalist military, which staged coups against Shinawatra-backed governments in 2006 and 2014.

Government critics say Pichit got the job thanks to his close ties with Thaksin. The tycoon still holds significant sway in politics, despite officially being retired and having spent 15 years in self-imposed exile until his return last year.

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The government has said Pichit was picked because he was suitable.

Thaksin, who was convicted of conflicts of interest and abuse of power and was released from detention on parole in February, will learn next week if he is to be prosecuted for an alleged insult to the powerful monarchy.

He has denied wrongdoing in the case over comments made in an interview a decade ago.

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Putin to hold two-day talks with Lukashenko in Belarus, says Kremlin

Putin to hold two-day talks with Lukashenko in Belarus, says Kremlin

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Putin to hold two-day talks with Lukashenko in Belarus, says Kremlin

 Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold wide-ranging talks with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk on Thursday and Friday, the Kremlin said.

Russia and Belarus are close allies, with Minsk set to take part in exercises aimed at simulating preparations for the launch of tactical nuclear weapons this month.

Belarus has offered Russia logistical support during its conflict with Ukraine, with Russian forces entering Ukraine from Belarusian territory during their initial offensive against Kyiv in February 2022.

Separately, Belarusian state news agency Belta reported on Thursday that Lukashenko had appointed Pavel Muraveyko as the new chief of the Belarusian army’s general staff. 

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Thai hospital says 20 people from Singapore Airlines flight remain in intensive care

Thai hospital says 20 people from Singapore Airlines flight remain in intensive care

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Thai hospital says 20 people from Singapore Airlines flight remain in intensive care

Twenty people who were aboard a Singapore Airlines flight that hit severe turbulence and diverted to Bangkok for an emergency landing on Tuesday remain in intensive care, a hospital official said on Thursday.

Of the 40 people on the flight still under treatment, 22 patients have spinal cord injuries and six have brain and skull injuries, Adinun Kittiratanapaibool, Director of Bangkok’s Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital told reporters.

Adinun had said 41 people were still under treatment, but later said one person had been discharged. One passenger died of a suspected heart attack and dozens were injured after Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 encountered what the airline described as sudden, extreme turbulence while flying over Myanmar on Tuesday. 

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