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Tracking app data used in Australian gangland murder case

The Infodemic is a weekly newsletter tracking how disinformation surrounding the coronavirus crisis is reshaping our world.

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Australian police have used data collected by a Covid-19 tracking app to help hunt down a suspect in the high-profile murder case of biker gang boss Nick Martin. The head of the Rebels Motorcycle Club was gunned down in December by a sniper at a race track in the city of Perth. Police, who accessed data from the Western Australia contract tracing app SafeWA, are now at the center of a national debate about privacy. Local opposition leader Mia Davies has said that the police action was a “significant breach of trust” and has introduced to the state parliament legislation that would make such information inaccessible to police.

Anti-vaxxers are using Yelp and Google to trash the reputations of U.S. bars and restaurants that require customers to show proof of vaccination. “We’ve built six years of good reviews that’s been chiseled away over a matter of months,” said Marshall Smith, one of the first business owners in the country to make patrons show vaccination certificates at the door of his bar in Denver, Colorado. MIT Technology Review reported that many of the bad reviews come from people in other parts of the country — or the world — and are often reactions to photographs shared online featuring bars and restaurants with signs stating that vaccination is compulsory for entry.

In Afghanistan, just 0.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated. This can be attributed to limited stocks and strong vaccine hesitancy, exacerbated by deadly attacks on health workers. Last March, gunmen murdered three female health workers on the second day of a polio vaccination drive in Nangarhar province. After finally reopening this week, the center was shut down by another attack, in which five workers were shot dead and four more wounded. A third pandemic wave has swamped hospitals, leading to widespread oxygen shortages, as doctors fear that the Covid-19 variant that has ravaged India is now spreading across the country.

Within a matter of days, city officials in Moscow and St. Petersburg banned and then unbanned Russians from sitting on park benches as part of a new set of Covid-19 restrictions. Social media users mocked regulations that prohibited the use of outdoor spaces such as playgrounds, gazebos and exercise areas but still allowed thousands of soccer fans to gather to watch European Football Championship games in St. Petersburg.

Spotlight: Hungary’s anti-pedophile laws target the LGBTQ+ community

Hungary’s historic parliament chamber filled with applause this Tuesday, as pro-government lawmakers cheered on the passing — with a 99% majority — of the country’s most restrictive set of anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

Up until about a week ago, the package of legislation was limited to creating new criminal measures against pedophilia, including banning convicted pedophiles from certain jobs and setting up a searchable public database of sex offenders. Then, pro-government members of parliament added amendments that connect homosexuality with child abuse, ban the “promotion” of homosexuality to children and establish a register of organizations allowed to discuss sexuality and gender in schools.

The new laws “can really only be considered a Russian model,” wrote Andras Racz, an associate professor at Peter Pazmany Catholic University in Hungary, a view repeated by Amnesty International Hungary, Human Rights Watch and various Hungarian activist groups. “However the Hungarian draft legislation is significantly broader and stricter in LGBTQI matters than the Russian one,” Racz added.

Both the Hungarian and the Russian laws give open-ended definitions of what “promoting” homosexuality actually means. In Russia, this has allowed prosecutors to apply the law broadly to speech simply acknowledging that LGBTQ+ people exist. In Hungary, rights groups say that the door is now open for law enforcement to harass members of the LGBTQ+ community. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s law also goes further than the Russian one by deliberately linking gay people to pedophilia and regulating who is allowed to be involved in sex education.

The big picture: Thousands of Hungarians have gathered in Budapest this week to protest the laws, while opposition parties boycotted the vote entirely. However, Orban now enjoys unprecedented support nationwide, owing to the perceived success of his coronavirus response. In May, the 10-million-strong country reached a total of 5 million vaccinations and lifted most pandemic restrictions. Orban, Hungary’s longest serving prime minister, is gearing up for elections in 2022, and the passing of the bill appears to be the latest effort to please his right-wing base. 

Coda’s researcher Masho Lomashvili and intern Deeksha Udupa contributed to this week’s Infodemic. Sign up here to get the next edition of this newsletter, straight to your inbox.

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