More than a million 16 and 17-year-olds to be offered first COVID jab, with no need for parental consent
All 16 and 17-year-olds are to be offered a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended.
The UK will now follow other countries including the United States, Israel and France who have started to vaccinate older teenagers against COVID-19.
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said the decision had been taken after “rigorously reviewed” trials in children and young people.
She told a Downing Street briefing that the MHRA will “continue to scrutinise” the data as the first wave of teenagers come forward to get their jabs.
A second dose for this age group will be recommended after emerging safety data has been scrutinised, the government health advisory body said.
The first inoculations for about 1.4 million older teenagers will be offered in the next few weeks ahead of a return to classrooms for the start of the autumn term and children will not need the consent of their parents to get a jab.
Official close to the vaccination programme have said that under current guidance, if a child is able to understand the risks and benefits of any medical treatment then they can give their consent without the say-so of their parents.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he had accepted the JCVI’s recommendations and asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate those eligible “as soon as possible”.
Boris Johnson said families should listen to the advice of the experts when it comes to COVID vaccination for children.
“I would just urge all families thinking about this across the country to listen to the JCVI,” the prime minister said.
“They are extremely expert there, they’re amongst the best if not the best in the world, they know what’s safe and I think we should listen to them and take our lead from them.”
Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 chair for the JCVI, said: “While COVID-19 is typically mild or asymptomatic in most young people, it can be very unpleasant for some and for this particular age group, we expect one dose of the vaccine to provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation.”
Younger children aged 12 to 15 will not be advised to get vaccinated in this phase but that could change later, with government scientists continuing to analyse data and evaluate any risks.
In July the JCVI said 12 to 15-year-olds who have an underlying health condition that put them at risk of severe COVID will be offered a vaccination.
And children aged 12 to 15 and live with or are close family contacts with someone who is deemed at risk should also be offered a vaccination. This advice has not changed.
But there has been significant debate over whether younger individuals should be offered the jab.
Some scientists say it would prevent further disruption to schooling in the next academic year, but other individuals have suggested that – as children are at a lower risk of serious illness from the virus – it would not be beneficial.
It was announced last month that clinically vulnerable children and those living with at-risk adults would be offered a vaccine.
The JCVI recommended that children “at an increased risk of serious COVID-19 disease” should be offered a jab.
As a result, children aged between 12 and 15-years-old with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities are being offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Children in the same age range who live with an immunosuppressed person are also being offered a vaccine, along with healthy children who are less than three months away from their 18th birthday.
Hong Kong regulator blocks access to two crypto entities, warning of fraud
The Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) of Hong Kong has issued a warning related to suspected fraud involving crypto entities Hong Kong Digital Research Institute and BitCuped.
In a Dec. 6 notice, the SFC said the Hong Kong Police Force had blocked access to the websites of BitCuped and Hong Kong Digital Research Institute — also known as HongKongDAO — claiming users could be fooled into making illegitimate investments. The regulator also issued cease-and-desist letters to the firms’ website operators.
“The SFC suspects HongKongDAO may be disseminating false and misleading information about itself and its business through online channels,” said the Dec. 6 notice. “The SFC notes that BitCuped claims on its website that ‘Laura Cha’ and ‘Nicolas Aguzin’ serve as its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer respectively, when in fact none of them has any affiliations with BitCuped.”
According to the SFC, the “misleading” information related to HongKongDAO could encourage individuals to believe its services were “properly licensed and legitimate” and invest in the HKD token. The securities regulatory added that Cha and Aguzin were executives with the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong rather than connected to BitCuped.
In October, the SFC announced it planned to update its policies on digital currency sales and requirements, citing market developments and industry feedback. Starting in June 2024, exchanges operating within Hong Kong must have a virtual asset service provider license with the SFC.
Lawmakers’ fear and doubt drives proposed crypto regulations in US
Real bipartisan legislative efforts are rare in Washington, DC, these days, but Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Joe Manchin and Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Roger Marshall have managed to come together to co-sponsor a bill focused on crypto crime.
According to the senators, the Digital Asset Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2023 aims to close loopholes in the nation’s Anti-Money Laundering rules. The bill would amend the Bank Secrecy Act and would designate a diverse range of digital asset providers as financial institutions.
The Bank Secrecy Act establishes program, recordkeeping and reporting requirements for national banks, federal savings associations, federal branches and agencies of foreign banks. Digital asset providers would be required to adhere to many of the same regulations as traditional banks.
Warren introduced the legislation to the United States Senate on July 27, 2023, on behalf of herself and Senators Joe Manchin, Roger Marshall and Lindsey Graham. The bill was then referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. It hasn’t been voted on by the entire Senate or sent to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration. Nor has President Biden signed it, and it is not a matter of law at this time.
The legislation would add several types of cryptocurrency providers to U.S. regulators’ list of financial institutions. These include unhosted wallet providers, digital asset miners and validators or other nodes that validate third-party transactions, miner extractable value searchers, other validators or network participants with control over network protocols, or just about anyone else who facilitates or provides services related to exchange, sale, custody or lending of digital assets.
All these organizations and individuals would be subject to the same regulations currently applied to financial institutions in the United States. The bill does include exceptions for those who use distributed ledger, blockchain technology or similar technologies for internal business purposes.
Crypto under federal review
If the bill becomes law, within 18 months of its enactment, the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network would announce that any U.S. person with $10,000 in digital assets or one or more digital assets overseas would have to file a report. Within the same timeframe, the U.S. Treasury would establish controls to mitigate unlawful financial risks associated with digital asset mixers and anonymity-enhanced cryptocurrency.
Within two years of the bill’s enactment, the Treasury, in consultation with the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, will create a risk-focused examination and review process for those digital asset participants newly designated as financial institutions. They would determine if efforts to stop money laundering and to counter crypto-funded terrorism are adequate and if crypto providers and facilitators are compliant with the new rules. Subsequently, within the same time frame, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will consult with the Treasury on exactly the same matters.
What about my favorite BTC kiosk?
The next part of the bill is focused on digital asset kiosks. Within 18 months of the bill’s passage, FinCEN will require digital asset kiosk (ATM) owners and administrators to submit and update the physical address of their kiosks every 90 days. The kiosk owners will also need to verify the identity of each customer using a valid form of government-issued identification, and they will have to collect the name and physical address of each counterparty to each transaction.
Within 180 days, FinCEN will issue a report about any digital asset kiosks that haven’t been registered. The report would include an estimate of the number of unregistered kiosks, their locations and an assessment of additional resources that FinCEN might need to be able to investigate them.
Within a year of the enactment of the legislation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency would issue a report identifying recommendations to reduce drug trafficking and money laundering associated with digital asset kiosks.
Crypto industry impact
Grant Fondo, co-chair of Goodwin’s digital currency and blockchain practice and a former Assistant U.S. attorney, tells Magazine that “the bill is an attempt to pull more players in the digital asset industry within regulatory control, to close gaps in what some in Congress see as not covered under the current regulatory regime.”
Fondo believes that, if passed, the legislation would have the practical effect of killing decentralized finance in the U.S. by applying an unworkable regime on DeFi protocols. Fondo sees the legislation as imposing a burden on validators and miners and also questions how realistic it would be to impose bank-like requirements on a software company validating blockchain transactions.
Hadas Jacobi, an attorney in the Financial Industry Group at Reed Smith who previously worked as a financial enforcement regulator for the State of New York, agrees. According to Jacobi, the act would apply Bank Secrecy Act requirements, depending on the context, to crypto participants that are not financial institutions.
“The act could be read as applicable to programmers and other tech providers who create the framework for financial services operations rather than provide services themselves,” Jacobi says.
Although Jacobi believes there is a need for legislative clarity in the space, she questions whether the primary intent of the legislation — the crypto sector’s threat to national security — is even relevant. Jacobi says that on-point regulation of cryptocurrency and digital asset services providers is necessary, but digital assets do not threaten national security.
“A general statement that digital assets pose a threat to U.S. national security, however, would be both inaccurate and short-sighted. Bad actors in the digital asset space pose a global threat from both a national security and a financial stability standpoint — but the digital asset industry and its underlying technology do not,” Jacobi says.
What the politicians are saying
In a written statement, Senator Marshall says that the bill addresses U.S. concerns about national security.
“This legislation is a matter of national security. Mastermind hackers from adversarial countries like Iran, Russia, and North Korea are committing cybercrimes against the United States to the tune of BILLIONS of dollars; they must be held accountable. The reforms outlined in our legislation will help us fight back and secure our digital assets by using proven methods that our domestic financial institutions have been complying with for years,” Marshall states.
Marshall says that the legislation would extend Bank Secrecy Act responsibilities to include Know Your Customer requirements for those affected, would address a “major gap” with unhosted digital wallets, would direct FinCEN to issue guidance on financial institutions to mitigate digital asset risks, would strengthen enforcement of BSA compliance, would extend BSA foreign bank account rules to include digital assets and would mitigate illicit finance risks of digital asset ATM’s.
Warren argues that U.S. authorities have warned that crypto is being used for all types of crimes and for antagonistic nations to avoid U.S. sanctions.
“Rogue nations like Iran, Russia and North Korea have used digital assets to launder stolen funds, evade American and international sanctions, and fund illegal weapons programs,” Warren says.
Suggesting that the act will help to subvert these efforts, Warren focuses her statement on North Korea’s missile program.
“Nearly half of North Korea’s missile program, for example, is estimated to be funded by cybercrime and digital assets. In 2022, illicit digital asset transactions totaled at least $20 billion — an all-time high,” Warren writes.
Manchin asked Democrats and Republicans to come together and vote for the bill. “Our bipartisan legislation would curtail these security risks and require cryptocurrency platforms to abide by the same Anti-Money Laundering rules that banks have to follow. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this common-sense legislation to protect Americans by preventing bad actors from using cryptocurrencies to finance their criminal activities,” Manchin says.
Fondo doesn’t see how the Anti-Money Laundering Act could minimize risks to national security but does recognize how the bill might address issues associated with anonymity-enhanced cryptocurrency.
Still, he would like to see this legislative effort well thought out before passing the bill. “No one wants terrorists and criminals masking their financial transactions. But conversely, privacy is a rare commodity, so it’s important to properly balance it with national security,” Fondo says.
Jacobi is concerned that overregulation will lead to redundancy and excessive costs that will drain the industry. She says that the act would direct FinCEN to regulate digital service providers as money transmission businesses, although she believes that they have already been doing that since 2013. Furthermore, she says that most state regulators have been examining and registering them for almost as long.
“The Act has the potential to upset the balance of the existing U.S. dual state and federal regulatory regime by creating redundancies in the supervision and examination of money transmission businesses, not to mention exposing the digital asset industry to resource-draining, duplicative enforcement actions,” Jacobi says.
Will the bill become law?
It’s anybody’s guess. The House of Representatives is just getting back on its feet after struggling for weeks to elect a new speaker.
The U.S. Senate still requires a supermajority vote to approve almost any piece of legislation, and all the while, members of Congress and President Joe Biden are hyper-focused on geopolitical matters like the Israel/Hamas conflict and the war in Ukraine.
Also, most U.S. federal-level politicians are about to enter the 2024 election season, where control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Presidency are all up for grabs.
Controversial legislation will certainly stall until after the election, but a potentially popular crypto bill might just be palatable to candidates on both sides of the aisle to find its way onto the president’s desk. If the Digital Asset Anti-Money Laundering Act were to become law, many cryptocurrency providers would have to learn how to comply with the same regulations as traditional financial institutions.
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IBM, Meta and others form ‘AI Alliance’ to advance AI development
In the race for market supremacy among artificial intelligence (AI) firms, a coalition of technology leaders spearheaded by IBM and Meta established the AI Alliance. Rather than competing, these companies aim to collaborate, emphasizing their commitment to fostering transparent innovation and responsible development in artificial intelligence.
In a joint statement, IBM and Meta outlined the AI Alliance’s objectives, emphasizing a commitment to safety, collaboration, diversity, economic opportunity, and universal benefits. The alliance, they noted, encompasses a collective annual research and development investment exceeding $80 billion.
While numerous members endorse open-source development, it’s important to note that adherence to this model is not obligatory for membership. Over 50 tech companies, such as AMD, Dell Technologies, Red Hat, Sony Group, Hugging Face, Stability AI, Oracle, and the Linux Foundation, unite with IBM and Meta in the AI Alliance.
“The progress we continue to witness in AI is a testament to open innovation and collaboration across communities of creators, scientists, academics, and business leaders.”
According to IBM and Meta, the AI Alliance will create a governing board and technical oversight committee focused on advancing AI projects and setting standards and guidelines. The alliance aims to collaborate with governments, non-profits, and non-government organizations (NGOs) operating in the AI sector.
“The AI Alliance brings together researchers, developers, and companies to share tools and knowledge that can help us all make progress whether models are shared openly or not,”
Looking to engage the academic community, the AI Alliance also includes several educational and research institutions, including CERN, NASA, Cleveland Clinic, Cornell University, Dartmouth, Imperial College London, University of California Berkeley, University of Illinois, University of Notre Dame, The University of Tokyo, and Yale University.
Prominent AI developers, including Microsoft, Google, OpenAI (developer of ChatGPT), and Anthropic (Claude AI), are conspicuously missing from the AI Alliance. Instead, they established their own initiative, The Frontier Forum, dedicated to responsible AI in July.
Earlier this year, the Biden Administration engaged in discussions with major AI developers to commit to responsible artificial intelligence development. Signatories included OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Anthropic, Meta, and Inflection. Subsequently, in September, NVIDIA, IBM, Scale AI, Adobe, Palantir, Salesforce, and Stability AI joined the pledge.
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