A Man in Malta is facing charges for sharing his testimony of leaving the Homosexual life and turning to Christ

1Peter 4:12-14 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Important Takeaways:

  • The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) reports it is representing Matthew Grech who faces up to five months in prison and almost $5,500 in fines if convicted.
  • His legal problem began after he told his “ex-gay” testimony during an online interview that was advertised on Facebook.
  • During the media interview, he shared his story about his childhood and the confusion he had experienced when it came to his own sexuality and relationships. He spoke about how, as an adult, he had been involved in homosexual relationships before becoming a Christian, which changed his life dramatically.
  • Grech spoke about how he does not agree with the term “conversion therapy” and said that the deeper he went into his Christian faith and exploring the Bible, the more “I understood that in the Bible, homosexuality is not an identity as we make it nowadays. And neither is it a feeling, but a practice.”
  • “This means that no matter what sexual feelings a man or a woman is experiencing if they have sexual relations with a person of the same sex, they commit the homosexual act in God’s eyes, and that is a sin,” he explained. “Just like every other sin, one can repent from it and ask God for forgiveness and ask Him for strength to overcome… I’m talking here from a Christian perspective…”
  • At no point during the interview did Grech invite any listener to attend therapy or encourage anyone to get help for unwanted same-sex attraction. This is backed up by a transcript from PMnews Malta.
  • After the interview, police pressed criminal charges against him for allegedly advertising conversion practices. The prosecution order he received accused him of advertising “conversion practices” and violating “article 3 ( a ) ( iii ) of Chapter 567 of Maltese laws.”
  • Malta became the first country in the European Union to ban what LGBT lobbies describe as ‘conversion therapy’ in 2016. Other nations then followed suit, such as the UK and Australia, using the original Maltese legislation as a blueprint for similar bans.
  • In the U.S., a total of 25 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 100 municipalities have banned the practice of conversion therapy on minors.
  • Since facing prosecution, Grech has warned that something similar “will soon be happening in the UK and other countries across the world.”

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Pastor Che Ahn: Threatened with prison and fines for his congregation for attending Church and Bible Studies

  • Harvest Rock Pastor Ché Ahn Explains Why They Fought To Overturn Gov. Newsom’s Lockdown Orders On Churches
  • “It was a total lockdown not only for services but also bible studies, prayer meetings in people’s homes,” Pastor Ché Ahn told FlashPoint presenter Gene Bailey.
  • He explained how and when they decided to file a lawsuit, saying that he was counseled by his attorney Matt Staver that the lockdown is an “egregious violation of their first amendment rights” because “the state would neither create a state church or religion nor interfere with the free exercise of religion,” and that it is clear that Gov. Newsom’s treatment of churches violates those rights.
  • In August, [2020] the pastor said that he received a “very dark nasty letter” from the city prosecutor informing him that he would be arrested and imprisoned for a year. The letter also said that each church member would also be penalized a thousand dollars for each service that they have attended from Pentecost Sunday on May 31.
  • “Now the context of this is that, Newsom was releasing all these prisoners- rapists, criminals, because of COVID crowdedness and so with that backdrop, I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is madness!’ because they want to arrest law-abiding citizens who pay their taxes just simply because we want to worship Jesus and yet they’re releasing criminals and I said, ‘This is madness. We’ve come to Isaiah 5:20 where the Bible says, Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.'”
  • All of their efforts were eventually rewarded when they were able to win a permanent injunction against California Governor Gavin Newsom in order to prevent him from implementing prohibitions on church-related activities ranging from corporate worship to personal bible study and prayer meetings.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Austria plans to fine vaccine holdouts up to 3,600 euros a quarter

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s conservative-led government on Thursday gave details of its plan to make coronavirus vaccines compulsory, saying it will apply to people 14 and over and holdouts face fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,071) every three months.

Roughly 68% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Many Austrians are skeptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest in parliament.

As infections set records three weeks ago, the government announced a fourth national lockdown and said it would make vaccinations compulsory for all, the first European Union country to do so.

“We do not want to punish people who are not vaccinated. We want to win them over and convince them to get vaccinated,” the minister for constitutional affairs, Karoline Edtstadler, told a news conference with Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein.

The vaccine mandate, which must be approved by parliament, is due to start in February and last through January 2024. Two opposition parties support it, suggesting it will pass easily.

There will be quarterly vaccination deadlines, Mueckstein said, adding that the authorities will check a central vaccination register to see if members of the public are in it.

“If that is not the case, proceedings will be brought. In regular proceedings the amount of the fine is 3,600 euros,” Mueckstein said, adding that fines would be means-tested.

“As an alternative, the authorities have the option to impose a fine in shorter proceedings immediately after the vaccination deadline. Here the amount of the fine is 600 euros,” he said, adding that if this was not paid it would lead to regular proceedings.

There will be exemptions for pregnant women and people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons, he added.

($1 = 0.8844 euros)

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. agency ramps up fines for travelers failing to wear masks

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Thursday it has recently ramped up proposed fines for travelers failing to wear masks at airports and in other transit modes.

The TSA said it has proposed $85,990 fines for 190 mask violators through Monday after more than 5,000 reported incidents since February 2 and issued warnings to more than 2,200.

On Monday, two U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives disclosed had issued just $2,350 in total fines to 10 passengers through mid-September, despite thousands of reports of airport travelers failing to comply.

House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson and Bonnie Watson Coleman, who chairs the House transportation subcommittee, said despite 4,102 reports of mask-related incidents TSA had issued just 10 fines through Sept. 13.

“We urge you to implement these enhanced penalties to curb the rising number of mask-related disruptive passenger incidents,” the lawmakers wrote.

The TSA said Thursday it has “taken steps to make enforcement and compliance more meaningful, including by increasing the penalties, reducing the processing time from receipt of incident reports to the issuance of enforcement actions and frequent and routine interaction with air carriers to improve incident reporting.”

The agency also said almost 200 people have faced criminal penalties. TSA Administrator David Pekoske in July said since the start of the pandemic there have been over 85 physical assaults on TSA officers.

In August, the TSA extended mask requirements on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through Jan. 18 to address COVID-19 risks.

The requirements, first imposed in early February, have been the source of some friction, especially aboard U.S. airlines, where some travelers have refused to wear masks.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which has instituted a “zero tolerance” enforcement effort on unruly passengers, through Monday has received 4,941 unruly passenger reports – including 3,580 mask-related incidents.

Last month, the TSA said it was doubling penalties for violating the transportation mask mandate: $500-$1000 for first offenders and $1000-$3000 for second offenders.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Factbox-Countries making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory

(Reuters) – A sharp upturn in new coronavirus infections due to the highly contagious Delta variant and a slowdown in vaccination rates have pushed governments to make COVID-19 shots mandatory for health workers and other high-risk groups.

A growing number of countries also stipulate that a shot, or a negative test, will be needed for dining out, among other activities.

Here are some countries’ vaccine mandates:

AUSTRALIA

Australia decided in late June to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels.

It has also made vaccinations obligatory for Paralympic athletes heading to Tokyo because unvaccinated members on the team could pose a health risk.

BRITAIN

It will be mandatory for care home workers in England to have coronavirus vaccinations from October.

English nightclubs and other venues with large crowds will require patrons to present proof of full vaccination from the end of September.

CANADA

Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat said on July 20 it was considering whether COVID-19 vaccines should be required for certain roles and positions in the federal government, according to CBC News.

FRANCE

The French parliament on Aug. 2 approved a bill which will make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for health workers as well as require a bolstered health pass in many social venues.

The government said on July 19 that the planned 45,000 euro ($53,456) fine for businesses that do not check that clients have a health pass will be much lower, starting at up to 1,500 euros and increasing progressively for repeat offenders. Fines will not be imposed immediately.

GREECE

Greece on July 12 made vaccinations mandatory for nursing home staff with immediate effect and healthcare workers from September. As part of new measures, only vaccinated customers are allowed indoors in bars, cinemas, theatres and other closed spaces.

INDONESIA

Indonesia made COVID-19 inoculations mandatory in February, with the capital Jakarta threatening fines of up to 5 million rupiah ($357) for refusing.

ITALY

A decree approved by the Italian government in March mandates that health workers, including pharmacists, get vaccinated. Those who refuse could be suspended without pay for the rest of the year.

HUNGARY

Hungary’s government has decided to make vaccinations mandatory for healthcare workers, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told public radio on July 23.

KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan will introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing for people working in groups of more than 20, the health ministry said on June 23.

LEBANON

Lebanon is to limit entry to restaurants, cafes, pubs and beaches to people holding vaccine certificates or those who have taken antibodies tests, the tourism ministry said on July 30. Non-vaccinated employees of these establishments would be required to conduct a PCR test every 72 hours.

MALTA

Malta banned visitors from entering the country from July 14 unless they are fully vaccinated.

POLAND

Poland could make vaccinations obligatory for some people at high risk from COVID-19 from August.

RUSSIA

The Russian capital has unveiled a plan of all service sector workers to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 15, according to the Moscow Times.

Moscow residents no longer have to present a QR code demonstrating they have been vaccinated or have immunity in order to sit in cafes, restaurants and bars from July 19.

SAUDI ARABIA

In May, Saudi Arabia mandated all public and private sector workers wishing to attend a workplace get vaccinated, without specifying when this would be implemented.

Vaccination will also be required to enter any governmental, private, or educational establishments and to use public transportation as of Aug. 1.

Saudi citizens will need two vaccine doses before they can travel outside the kingdom from Aug. 9, state news agency SPA reported on July 19, citing the ministry of interior.

TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan’s healthcare ministry said on July 7 it was making vaccination mandatory for all residents aged 18 and over.

UNITED STATES

U.S. President Joe Biden announced on July 29 that all civilian federal workers will need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and travel limits, a source familiar with the matter said.

New York City will become the first major U.S. city to require, from Sept. 13, proof of vaccination for customers and staff at restaurants, gyms and other indoor businesses as the country enters a new phase of battling the Delta variant.

New York will require state employees to be vaccinated or get tested weekly, a mandate that will go into effect on Sept. 6, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will require their workers to get the vaccine or get tested weekly, Cuomo said on Aug. 2.

New Jersey state health care workers and employees who work in jails must by vaccinated by Sept. 7 or face testing twice a week.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said that all state employees would be ordered to get vaccinated starting Aug. 2 or undergo COVID-19 testing at least once a week.

Denver municipal employees and people working in high-risk settings in the city will be required to get vaccinated, Mayor Michael Hancock said on Aug. 2.

($1 = 0.8418 euros)

(Compiled by Paulina Cwikowska, Dagmarah Mackos and Oben Mumcuoglu; editing by Milla Nissi, Steve Orlofsky, Joe Bavier and Nick Macfie)

Appeals court finds Florida can require felons to pay fines before right to vote is restored

By Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that Florida can require felons to pay all fines, restitution and legal fees they face before they can regain their right to vote, reversing a lower court ruling that held the measure unconstitutional.

The ruling, by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, could influence the election outcome in November.

Florida is considered a must-win in President Donald’s Trump’s bid for re-election and disenfranchised felons account for a significant voting bloc in a state with a history of tight elections.

The dispute, which could ultimately head to U.S. Supreme Court, centers on whether the law is a way around a voter-approved 2018 measure that aimed to end the state’s lifetime prohibition on voting by ex-felons.

The Republican-controlled Florida legislature passed the law the following year, requiring all former felons to pay off outstanding court debts and legal fees to be eligible to vote.

Voting and civil rights groups sued the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, and state election officials over that requirement.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle in May struck down most of the law as unconstitutional, describing it as a “pay to vote” scheme.

The appeals court, dominated by judges appointed by Trump, delayed the decision while it considered on appeal.

On Friday, a majority of the 11-judge panel found the defendants in the case failed to prove the measure violated the constitution, noting the country has a long history of placing restrictions on voting.

The decision was met with frustration by voting rights groups.

“Florida’s voters spoke loud and clear when nearly two-thirds of them supported rights restoration at the ballot box in 2018,” said Paul Smith, vice president at Campaign Legal Center. “Nobody should ever be denied their constitutional rights because they can’t afford to pay fines and fees.”

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Lockdown, what lockdown? UK begins tougher action against those ignoring shutdown

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain brought in tough measures on Thursday to curb the spread of coronavirus and ensure people obey the government’s virtual lockdown which many thousands are feared to have so far ignored.

The new powers allow police to issue instant fines those who leave their homes without good reason or gather in groups of more than two people.

In northern England, one police force has begun introducing random vehicle checkpoints to ensure the new rules are enforced while the head of the Church of England told Britons who were flouting the instructions to “get your act together”.

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs, restaurants and nearly all shops to close, banned social gatherings and told people to stay at home unless they needed to buy food, go out to essential work or to exercise once a day.

While millions have respected the measures, roads and parks have remained busy, and the authorities across the country have repeatedly reported that people have not respected the 2 metre (6 foot) guidance on social distancing while others have continued to mingle.

On Thursday, a new regulations came into effect which give the authorities the power to impose a 30-pound fixed penalty on those who breach the rules. Repeat offenders could ultimately receive a fine of up to 960 pounds and might be arrested.

Those who did not pay up could be taken to court, where magistrates could impose unlimited fines, the government said.

“The prime minister has been clear on what we need to do: stay at home to protect our NHS and save lives,” said Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel.

PARKS CLOSED

Some Britons have continued their daily routine and risked spreading the virus which the government fears could overwhelm the National Health Service if large numbers contract COVID-19.

In east London, police and the Tower Hamlets local authority said they had been forced to close Victoria Park, one of the largest and most popular open public spaces in the area, because people were failing to abide by the guidance.

The Royal Parks, a charity which looks after eight major parks across the capital, said it too was considering shutting its gates.

“It is up to all of us collectively to adhere to the latest guidance, otherwise we will have to consider closing the parks. We will keep the situation under constant review,” said Tom Jarvis, its Director of Parks.

Other cities have already closed some parks and facilities to meet the guidance on social distancing while Greater Manchester firefighters said they had received reports of lots of people having barbecues on moorlands.

Meanwhile police in Devon, southwest England, said when they has asked a young cyclist why he was four miles from his home and not following the rules, he had replied: “It only kills old people”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual head of the Church of England, said people should not act selfishly.

“Get your act together,” he said to those who have been ignoring the strict government social distancing instructions.

“If you are not complying, you are risking other people’s lives, not just your own,” he told ITV News.

To ensure compliance, police in northern England said they would bring in vehicle checkpoints from Thursday, along with foot patrols to disperse any groups.

“We sincerely hope that we won’t have to resort to enforcement action, but if people do not comply, we will,” said Mike Walker, Assistant Chief Constable of North Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill said anyone who claimed they had the virus and deliberately coughed at police or other emergency workers could be charged with common assault and face up to two years in jail.

“Let me be very clear: this is a crime and needs to stop.”

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

Restoring felon voting rights a ‘mess’ in battleground Florida

By Linda So

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) – Clifford Tyson wants to help choose America’s next president. But the Florida resident fears his vote might return him to jail.

Tyson, 63, owes court-ordered fines and fees for three felony convictions, one for robbery, two for theft, all decades old. Under a Florida law that went into effect July 1, he must pay those penalties before casting a ballot or risk being prosecuted for voter fraud.

Tyson searched court records, first on his own, then with the help of a nonprofit legal advocacy group. They say that because Florida has no comprehensive system for tracking such fines, the documents don’t make clear what he owes. The records, viewed by Reuters, show potential sums ranging from $846 to a couple thousand dollars related to crimes he committed in the late 1970s and 1990s. Tyson says he won’t risk voting until Florida authorities can tell him for sure.

“Until there is clarity, as much as I want to vote, I won’t do it,” Tyson said.

The Tampa pastor is now a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the payments law, which was crafted by Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican. The law came just months after Floridians approved a ballot initiative restoring voting rights to more than 1 million felons who have completed their sentences; that change to the state’s Constitution created a potentially huge new crop of voters in a critical battleground state ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The lawsuit, filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund, alleges the fees requirement defies the will of Florida voters and amounts to an illegal poll tax on newly enfranchised Florida felons, many of them minorities.

But another argument is shaping up to be central to the plaintiffs’ case: Florida has no consolidated system for determining what felons owe or certifying that they have paid up. It’s a situation that ex-offenders say makes it virtually impossible for them to prove they are eligible to vote.

Those claims are bolstered by state election officials who say they can’t calculate what felons owe, either, according to a Reuters review of 7 depositions, emails and other internal correspondence from voting administrators submitted by plaintiffs’ attorneys as part of the lawsuit.

Florida has no centralized database where records of court-ordered fines and fees – and any payments of those penalties – are stored, election and court officials say. To get that information, felons typically must search documents in courts where they were convicted, be they federal or state, inside or outside Florida. Records have been found to be incomplete, contradictory or missing, plaintiffs’ attorneys say.

With the Feb. 18 deadline to register for the state’s 2020 presidential primary approaching, the issue is taking on urgency. An estimated 436,000 felons have fees to settle before they can vote, according to a study by University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, an expert witness for the ACLU. The study was based on court data and Department of Corrections records.

The stakes are high. Florida commands 29 of the 538 electoral votes that are used under the U.S. Electoral College system to select the American president. In Florida and most other states, the candidate who places first in the popular vote – even if just by a hair – wins all the electoral votes. Florida has a history of tight elections and contested outcomes.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say Florida has shifted all responsibility for compliance with the new payments law to ex-offenders, who risk prosecution if they get it wrong. The state contends the legislature merely implemented the constitutional amendment as it was written on the ballot.

The legislation, known as SB 7066, “sows seeds of confusion,” said Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “It will chill participation.”

Some of the state’s 67 county elections supervisors – the public servants who ultimately decide which felons get culled from the rolls and which can stay – expressed concern in their depositions and to Reuters about making mistakes that could invite challenges to future election results.

Five testified recently in the lawsuit that they lack the manpower to do detailed searches or have no way of ascertaining for certain whether ex-offenders have met their financial obligations under SB 7066.

They said they are relying on Florida’s Department of State, which manages the state’s elections, to help them determine who is ineligible. That agency is developing a procedure to send counties regularly updated lists of felons on their rolls who have unpaid fines and fees, but it has no timetable as to when it will be ready, said Maria Matthews, the director of the Department of State’s Division of Elections, in a September deposition. Matthews did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

For now, the agency is providing counties only with names of Florida felons who are incarcerated, and thus ineligible to vote, Toshia Brown, chief of the department’s Voter Registration Services, said in an August deposition. Brown did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

An early list sent to Leon County in Florida’s Panhandle region appeared to contain inaccuracies, Deputy Elections Supervisor Christopher Moore said in a July email to his staff, which was viewed by Reuters. Moore’s office researched a June list provided by the Department of State containing 66 names of allegedly incarcerated felons, but could not determine whether felony convictions existed for 24 of them – 36% of the total – emails exchanged between Moore and his staff show.

“This process is not off to a very accurate start and we are playing with people’s eligibility to vote,” Moore said in the July email. Moore told Reuters that subsequent data his office has received from the Department of State has gotten better.

Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the Department of State reviews information from a variety of sources, makes an initial determination on a voter’s eligibility, then passes that along to county supervisors. She said the agency is working to “improve the accuracy and efficiency of the information,” but said it’s up to those elections supervisors to make the final call.

Some backers of the payments law say the responsibility should be on ex-offenders, not the state, to figure out how to comply with SB 7066.

“If you’re going to register to vote and you’re a former felon, it’s worth double checking to make sure you took care of everything,” said J.C. Martin, chairman of the Polk County Republican Party in central Florida.

A federal judge in the Northern District of Florida has set a Monday hearing on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction to throw out the fees requirement. A decision could come as early as this month.

NO CENTRALIZED DATABASE

Florida stripped felons of their votes during the Jim Crow era in 1868, a ban that endured 150 years and disproportionately affected black voters. As recently as 2016, more than 1.4 million people with felony convictions were barred from voting in Florida, including one in five African American adults, according to The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice nonprofit, which used state conviction and incarceration records for the study.

In November 2018, nearly 65% of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to felons, except those convicted of murder and sex crimes.

Through the end of July, Florida recorded around 337,000 new voter registrations, 45,000 of them by African Americans. That’s a 22% increase in new black voters compared to the same period in 2015, the year preceding the last presidential election, a Reuters analysis of Florida voting data shows.

The ballot initiative said felons must first complete “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” Republican lawmakers interpreted that to include any court costs, fines, fees and restitution to victims imposed at sentencing. In May, they passed a bill requiring repayment as a condition for voting.

DeSantis, the governor, signed it into law in June amid criticism by voting rights advocates that the legislation was intended to suppress potential votes of African Americans, who tend to vote Democratic. DeSantis has dismissed claims that the law is a poll tax.

The state is still discussing ways to centralize data to track payments. Building a consolidated system could take years and cost millions, according to lawmakers and officials who debated the issue before the law’s passage.

“Right now, the system is just a mess,” ACLU attorney Julie Ebenstein said.

Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center said the group spent weeks trying to track down what Tyson owes, but couldn’t get a clear answer.

For example, Tyson has a 1998 theft conviction in Hillsborough County on Florida’s Gulf Coast. A judgment order on the clerk’s online docket shows he was ordered to pay $661 in costs, fines and fees. But a separate subpage on the website indicates he was ordered to pay $1,066. Still another shows a total of $573. Tyson’s lawyers say no officials have been able to explain the discrepancies.

State Representative Jamie Grant of Tampa, a Republican supporter of SB 7066, said critics of the law are the ones trying to defy the will of the electorate.

“You don’t get to change what the definition and terms are after people vote for it,” Grant said.

(Reporting by Linda So; Editing by Marla Dickerson)

Facebook to pay record $5 billion U.S. fine over privacy violations; critics call it a bargain

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Joe Simons announces that Facebook Inc has agreed to a settlement of allegations it mishandled user privacy during a news conference at FTC Headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Facebook Inc will pay a record-breaking $5 billion fine to resolve a government probe into its privacy practices and the social media giant will restructure its approach to privacy, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday.

The probe uncovered a wide range of privacy issues. It was triggered last year by allegations that Facebook violated a 2012 consent decree by inappropriately sharing information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The consultancy’s clients included President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

The FTC voted 3-2 along party lines to adopt the settlement, which requires court approval. The Republican commissioners called the settlement “a complete home run” that exceeded any award the commission could have gotten in court. Democratic commissioners said it did not go far enough or require a large enough fine.

Republican FTC Chairman Joe Simons stressed the FTC’s limited authority and desire to avoid a long uncertain court fight.

“Would it have been nice to get more, to get $10 billion, instead of $5 billion for example, to get greater restrictions on how Facebook collects uses and shares data?” he asked at a press conference. “We did not have those options. We cannot impose such things by our own fiat.”

Facebook confirmed it would pay the $5 billion fine and said the FTC deal would provide “a comprehensive new framework for protecting people’s privacy.” Its share price fell about 1% on Wednesday morning to trade at $200.39.

Democratic FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra complained that the penalty provided “blanket immunity” for Facebook executives “and no real restraints on Facebook’s business model” and does “not fix the core problems that led to these violations.”

Facebook agreed to pay an additional $100 million to settle allegations that it misled investors about the seriousness of its misuse of users’ data, the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Under the FTC settlement, Facebook’s board will create an independent privacy committee that removes “unfettered control by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over decisions affecting user privacy.”

Facebook also agreed to exercise greater oversight over third-party apps, and said it was ending access to friend data for Microsoft Corp and Sony Corp.

The Republican majority on the FTC said the settlement “significantly diminishes Mr. Zuckerberg’s power — something no government agency, anywhere in the world, has thus far accomplished.”

Under the deal, Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives must sign quarterly certifications attesting to privacy practices. The FTC said Zuckerberg or others filing a false certification could face civil and criminal penalties.

Facebook also is barred from asking for email passwords to other services when consumers sign up. It is barred from using telephone numbers for advertising if they are obtained in a security feature like two-factor authentication. The company must also get user consent to use facial recognition data.

Facebook said it may find additional problems as it initiates a review of its systems and warned it will take longer to roll out updates as it plans to use “hundreds of engineers and more than a thousand people across our company to do this important work.”

“As part of this settlement, we’re bringing our privacy controls more in line with our financial controls,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. “Going forward, when we ship a new feature that uses data, or modify an existing feature to use data in new ways, we’ll have to document any risks and the steps we’re taking to mitigate them.”

The FTC also said that Cambridge Analytica’s former CEO Alexander Nix and former app developer Aleksandr Kogan had agreed to a settlement restricting how they conduct business.

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut was one of several Democratic lawmakers who criticized the settlement, calling it “a fig leaf” that offers “no accountability for top executives.”

“By relying on a monetary fine to deter Facebook, the FTC has failed to heed history’s lessons. Facebook has already written this penalty down as a one-time-cost in return for the extraordinary profits reaped from a decade of data misuse,” said Blumenthal.

Facebook’s legal issues may not be over. On Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department said it was opening a broad investigation of major digital technology firms into whether they engage in anti-competitive practices.

The department did not identify specific companies but said the review would consider concerns raised about “search, social media, and some retail services online.” Leaders in those areas include Google parent Alphabet Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Facebook and possibly Apple Inc.

FTC DECIDED TO SETTLE PROBE

The Republican commissioners led by Simons said if the FTC had gone to court “it is highly unlikely that any judge would have imposed a civil penalty even remotely close to this one.”

The Democrats on the FTC complained that the $5 billion penalty may be less than Facebook’s gains from violating users’ privacy. “Until we address Facebook’s core financial incentives for risking our personal privacy and national security, we will not be able to prevent these problems from happening again,” Chopra said.

His fellow Democratic commissioner, Rebecca Slaughter, said the FTC should have taken Facebook and Zuckerberg to court. She also criticized the FTC’s decision to grant Facebook and its executives a release from liability for any claims that prior to June 12, 2019 it violated the earlier FTC settlement.

Slaughter said the FTC failed “to impose any substantive restrictions on Facebook’s collection and use of data from or about users.”

Chopra said the settlement means “the commission — and the public — may never find out what Facebook knows… It is difficult to conclude that the commission got the better end of the bargain.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; additional reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and David Gregorio)

NYC mayor orders mandatory measles vaccinations after Brooklyn outbreak

FILE PHOTO: A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet is seen at Boston Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn on Tuesday in response to a measles outbreak, requiring unvaccinated people living in the affected areas to get the vaccine or face fines.

The city’s largest measles outbreak since 1991 has mainly been confined to the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, with 285 cases confirmed since October, de Blasio said at a news conference.

“This is the epicenter of a measles outbreak that is very, very troubling and must be dealt with immediately,” de Blasio said.

The disease is easily spread and can be fatal, but there have been no confirmed deaths so far, officials said.

The outbreak is part of a broader resurgence in the United States, with 465 cases reported in 19 states so far this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials from New York City’s Department of Health will check vaccination records of anyone who has been in contact with infected patients in certain parts of Brooklyn, officials said.

Those who have not received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or can otherwise give evidence of immunity, such as having previously had the measles, will face a fine of up to $1,000.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Gine Cherelus; Editing by Bill Berkrot)