Month: April 2021

Are Consumers Getting the Short Stick on Data Privacy?

On a Monday, there is a data leak affecting half a billion Facebook accounts, by Tuesday a bot has scraped 500 million LinkedIn accounts. On Wednesday, Stanford University announces a hack that exposed thousands of social security numbers and financial details. Then Thursday, the world’s largest aviation IT company announces 90 percent of passenger data may have been accessed in a cyber-attack. And so on. The cycle is endless.

The sheer number of reports of data leaks, hacks, and scams on affected accounts has now grown so gargantuan that consumers and users are left numb. It might as well be the soaring national debt total —the higher the number, the less we care.

But breaches of private data matter. And consumers should be rightly ticked off.

Because for every company screw-up, hacker exploit, and insecure government database, there are thousands of firms and organizations doing it right, keeping users’ data secure, encrypted, and away from prying eyes.

And although states like California, Virginia, and Vermont have passed privacy and data laws, many of these provisions too closely resemble the European Union’s troubled General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in making it more difficult for legitimate businesses to secure data, not less.

When large data breaches occur, consumers who have been legitimately harmed should have their claims heard in court.

But the current patchwork of regulations across the U.S., including in the tech-centric state of California, place too much of a burden on those who are follow the law and do right by their customers, and risk creating different rules in different jurisdictions. To avoid this, a national framework on data and consumer privacy will need to take shape.

While we should always be vigilant about potentials for leaks and hacks, a chief concern of a smart and common-sense data privacy bill should be in championing innovation.

For every new health data company, logistics firm, or consumer wearable, proper data collection and retention are a core value. The more that rules are uniform, clear, and do not create barriers to entry, the more innovation we will see when it comes to data protection.

We should incentivize firms to adopt interoperability and open data standards to ensure data is portable and easy-to-access for users. Major social media networks now allow this prevision, and it has been the standard for website data for several years.

If that becomes the standard, consumers will be able to choose the brands and services that best cater to their needs and interests, rather than just companies left standing in the wake of overregulation.

At the same time, if we are to have a national privacy bill, we should enshrine the principle of technology neutrality, where government avoids decreeing winners and losers. That means that regulating or endorsing various formats of data, algorithms, or technology should be determined by firms and consumers, not government agencies without the knowledge necessary to make good decisions. The EU’s recent attempt to designate the “common phone charger” as the micro-USB connection, at a time when USB-C connections are becoming the industry standard, is an easy example.

This also extends to innovation practices such as targeted advertising, geo-targeting, or personalization, which are key to the consumer experience.

Added to that, we should be wary of all attempts to outlaw encryption for both commercial and personal use.

In recent weeks, FBI Director Christopher Wray has once again called on Congress to ban the use of encryption, an overreach that would put billions of dollars’ worth of data at risk overnight, and leave us vulnerable to foreign hackers.

He is joined in these efforts by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who introduced a bill that would forever ban this important cryptographic invention, warning it is used by “terrorists and other bad actors to conceal illicit behavior.”

The reason encryption remains a powerful tool in the arsenal of companies and agencies that handle our data and communications is because it works. We must defend it at any cost.

While there is plenty to be concerned about when it comes to online breaches and hacks, consumers should be able to benefit from an innovative marketplace of products and services, unencumbered by regulations that all-too-often restrict progress.

This balance is possible and necessary, both if we want to have a more secure online experience, and if we want to continue to have the best technology at our disposal to improve our lives.

Originally published here.

Quiere Congreso control de plataformas digitales

Propuestas como imponer una cuota de contenido nacional en el streaming, el Padrón Nacional de Usuarios Móviles (Panaut) y otras iniciativas presentadas en el Congreso muestran una tendencia a querer controlar el entorno digital, advirtió Adriana Labardini, ex comisionada del Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT).

La creación de una nueva Ley de Cinematografía que impondría una cuota de pantalla a producciones nacionales en streaming y cines no está desligada de otras presentadas por legisladores, como la de ciberseguridad, que propone consecuencias penales si se considera que hay desinformación o daño a una institución o persona, la creación del Panaut, entre otras.

“Estamos rodeados ahora de una serie de iniciativas en el ecosistema digital tendientes, no como se dice aquí, a aumentar esa diversidad y pluralismo sino a controlar el discurso y eso es grave.

“Quiero combatir el crimen y te pido tus biométricos, quiero que no haya noticias falsas, pero realmente lo que quiero es eliminar un discurso liberal. Eso es peligroso. Hay que analizar esta iniciativa (Ley de Cine) a la luz de todas las demás iniciativas”, dijo Adriana Labardini, ex comisionada del Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT) en el conversatorio Cuotas de contenidos en México organizado por Consumer Choice Center.

La Ley Federal de Cinematografía y el Audiovisual propuesta por el senador Ricardo Monreal contempla que plataformas como Netflix, Amazon Prime o Disney+, reserven el 15 por ciento de su catálogo para obras nacionales que no hayan sido producidas hace más de 25 años.

Los contenidos deberán ser producidos por agente nacional que no sea controlado por la plataforma digital o esté sujeto a un control común con una empresa que forme parte del grupo de interés económico de la plataforma digital.

Para la propuesta un productor es nacional una persona física mexicana por nacimiento, naturalización o residencia permanente; o una moral con mayoría del capital votante controlado de manera directa o indirecta por mexicanos por nacimiento o naturalización que ejerzan control efectivo en la empresa.

“Va beneficiar a los únicos que producen una cantidad masiva de contenidos no de calidad, no de autor, pero sí nacionales. Son los que menos protección necesitaban y tan no necesitaban protección que hace tres días se anuncia la fusión Univision-Televisa.

“Crearán una plataforma gigantísima de contenidos en español como para que el Estado mexicano, según nos lo dicen, tan anti neoliberal, tan anti iniciativa privada, le regale esta protección enorme justo a las dos o tres empresas que no la necesitan”, comentó Labardini este lunes en el encuentro de la organización enfocada a la protección del consumidor.

En todo caso, las cuotas deberían imponerse en los canales de televisión y en la TV restringida, agregó la ex comisionada.

Irene Levy, presidenta de Observatel, recordó que la iniciativa inició en septiembre de 2020 cuando se pretendía imponer un mínimo de contenido nacional del 30 por ciento en el streaming.

Originally published here.

European Green Deal: GMOs completely absent

Can Europe still claim to be on the side of science?…

Agriculture is one of the key strategic pillars in the fight against climate change. In a world where average temperatures are set to reach levels that humanity has never experienced, we will have to be even more resourceful to feed an ever-growing population. Unfortunately, the “Farm to Fork” plan unveiled by the European Commission last May seems to be going in the opposite direction. Instead of relying on the latest innovations brought about by genetic engineering, the Commission prefers to bet on the democratisation of organic farming, whose ecological and health virtues are, after analysis, very limited. 

The Commission plans to reduce the European agricultural area by 10% while converting 25% of agricultural land to organic farming, representing only 7.5% of the land. These two objectives are incompatible. Indeed, given that the profitability per hectare of organic farming is on average 25% lower than that of conventional farming, an increase in the proportion of “organic” farming in Europe must necessarily be accompanied by an increase in the area cultivated – and potentially by a reduction in forests. For example, an article published in Nature in December 2018 showed that conversion to organic farming could lead to significant CO2 emissions by promoting deforestation. After studying the case of organic peas grown in Sweden, the authors conclude that they have “an impact on the climate about 50% greater than conventionally grown peas”. 

The plan also calls for the use of chemical pesticides to be halved. Here again, the Commission fails to recognise that pesticides are essential to protect crops from disease and pests. Farmers cannot do without them without risking the decimation of their crops and the collapse of their yields – exposing consumers to shortages and sharp price fluctuations. And since they cannot do without them, if they are forbidden to use chemical pesticides, they will turn to so-called ‘natural’ pesticides, as in organic farming. However, just because a pesticide is natural does not mean that it is necessarily less dangerous for health and the environment. On the contrary, copper sulphate, a ‘natural’ fungicide widely used in organic farming, is known to be toxic.

Conversely, just because a pesticide is synthetic does not mean it is dangerous. Indeed, despite the paranoia surrounding chemical pesticides today, the European Food Safety Agency concluded in a 2016 study that they “are not likely to pose a health risk to consumers”. This is not surprising, as pesticides are tested for health effects before being put on the market. 

It is true, however, that in environmental terms, chemical pesticides can have harmful consequences. But no more so than natural pesticides – copper sulphate, once again, is as toxic to humans as it is to ecosystems. So the challenge is to find a real alternative to pesticides. 

The good news is that one already exists: genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Indeed, scientists at the Georg-August University in Goettingen, Germany, have estimated that genetic engineering has already reduced the use of chemical pesticides worldwide by 37% while increasing crop yields by 22% and boosting farmers’ profits by 68%. But the benefits of growing GM crops do not stop there. It also produces drought-resistant crops and end products with improved nutritional properties. In short, genetic engineering promises to address ecological, health and demographic challenges simultaneously.

Unfortunately, the development of this technology is not part of the Commission’s plan. This is due to the precautionary dogma that inspires the current European regulations. Indeed, while much progress has been made in this field, allowing the various techniques to gain in precision, the regulation that applies to all GMOs -without distinction- has not evolved since 2001. 

It is regrettable that a “Green New Deal” whose ambition is to build a “healthier and more sustainable food system” does not include a review of the rules governing the research, development and distribution of GMOs. This is all the more so because, given the current state of knowledge, there is no reason to believe that human-directed genome modification entails more risks than that which occurs naturally through the evolutionary process.
In 2016, a hundred Nobel Prize winners spoke out in favour of GM crops: “GMOs are safe, GMOs are environmentally friendly, GMOs are especially important for small farmers”. What is the logic of politics paying attention to the scientific consensus on global warming but ignoring this call from 155 Nobel Prize winners for the development of GMO agriculture? Can Europe still claim to be on the side of science?

Originally published here

Gov. Newsom’s ‘petitions’ + Prop. 22 backers reunite to lobby + CalChamber’s vaccine campaign


Last year, gig economy giants like Uber and Lyft built a coalition of organizations to help them pass Proposition 22, the initiative that generally exempted them from the new California law that requires businesses to give employment benefits to more workers. 

Now, the Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Coalition is uniting again to lobby for “access to independent, app-based work, and preserve the availability, affordability, and reliability of on-demand app-based rideshare and delivery services that are essential to California’s economy,” according to a group statement.

Its first target is Assembly Bill 286, which caps charges for a food facility’s use of a platform such as DoorDash to 15% of an online order’s purchase price. The bill is authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. Gonzalez wrote also wrote Assembly Bill 5, the employment law that was weakened by Prop. 22 last fall.

“As an immediate priority, the coalition is actively working to oppose legislation that would restrict access to app-based work and services such as Assembly Bill 286, which would impose unworkable new regulations on app-based delivery services that would raise consumer prices, decrease customers for restaurants, and reduce earning opportunities for drivers,” the group said in a statement.

Members of the coalition include the Congress on Racial Equality, the National Taxpayers Union, the California Narcotics Officers Association, the Consumer Choice Center, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart.

Originally published here.

INTERVIEW: Jennifer Huddleston on the Way Forward on Consumer Privacy

INTERVIEW: Jennifer Huddleston (@jrhuddles) on Consumer Choice Radio

-Do we need a federal privacy law?

-There are innovative practices used by private companies. We should celebrate them.

-Why GDPR is so problematic

-The “Techlash” and the bad policy ideas from both left and right

-Data silos and how to maintain consumer privacy and innovation

-Errors of state-level privacy laws

Jennifer Huddleston is the Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum

California’s AB 286 is a hidden tax on consumers and small businesses. The legislature should vote NO

Our coalition of community organizations, minority-owned businesses, small businesses,
taxpayer advocates restaurants, merchants and app-based drivers strongly oppose Assembly
Bill 286. While AB 286 purports to help restaurants and merchants, the bill will result in
increased costs to consumers, reduced business and revenues for restaurants, and fewer
income-earning opportunities for drivers.

AB 286 is a hidden tax on consumers and small businesses and would hurt the very restaurants
it is intended to protect.

App-based delivery platforms connect restaurants, customers, and drivers. Fees are carefully
balanced to reflect the mutual benefits to each party: fees on restaurants help pay for marketing,
payment and insurance for drivers, customer service, and other services that help restaurants
gain customers and grow business. Fees on customers reflect the convenience and value of the
delivery service while also ensuring fair payment to drivers.

AB 286 would arbitrarily and permanently cap fees paid by restaurants and will force prices to
rise on consumers in order to ensure adequate revenues to provide app-based delivery
services. For instance, a 15% cap on a typical $20 food order is $3. That $3 is insufficient to
pay for the driver, insurance, marketing, credit card processing fees, customer support,
technology, and costs of operating the platform.

Because of this, in communities that have passed these arbitrary fee caps, consumer prices
have increased to compensate and ensure that app-based delivery remains viable. In cities that
have implemented these arbitrary fee caps, consumer costs have immediately gone up by $2-3
per order.

Higher prices are proven to reduce demand by as much as 30%, taking away customers and
business from restaurants that are struggling to stay afloat during these challenging times. AB
286 will be particularly harmful to small independent restaurants trying to compete with larger
chains that have their own marketing and even delivery services. Furthermore, while AB 286
purports to help restaurants struggling with the pandemic, it is permanent in nature and won’t
even go into effect until 2022.

And the higher prices also harm drivers working with app-based platforms, as reduced demand
for services means fewer work opportunities for drivers, less income for drivers and reduced
sales tax revenues for municipalities.

Finally, AB 286 is unnecessary. California recently passed legislation (AB 2149) that requires
app-based platforms to enter into a contract with every restaurant and merchant they list on
their app. As a result, every restaurant or merchant that utilizes app-based delivery services
has voluntarily entered into an agreement with full transparency into the terms, fees, and
benefits of partnering with these platforms.

We strongly urge you to vote No on AB 286. It hurts restaurants, customers, and app-based


Lily Rocha, President, Latino Restaurant Association
Julian Canete, President & CEO, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce
Pat Fong Kushida, President & CEO, CalAsian Chamber of Commerce
Rev. KW Tulloss, President, Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California
Matt Regan, Senior Vice President, Bay Area Council
Cindy Roth, President & CEO, Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce
Reuben Franco, President & CEO, Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Elise Swanson, Chair, South Bay Association of Chambers of Commerce
Jessica Lall, President & CEO, Central City Association – Los Angeles
Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director, Consumer Choice Center
Heidi L. Gallegos, President & CEO, Brea Chamber of Commerce
Leah Vukmir, VP of State Affairs, National Taxpayers Union
Moises Merino, President, Latino Leadership & Policy Forum
Ruben Guerra, President and Chair, Latin Business Association

Rev. Jonathan E. Moseley, Western Regional Director, National Action Network – Los Angeles
David Cruz, President, League of United Latin American Citizens Council 3288
Jay King, President & CEO, California Black Chamber of Commerce
Faith Bautista, CEO, National Diversity Coalition
Stuart Waldman, President, Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA)
Marc Ang, Founder/President, Asian Industry B2B
Peter Leroe-Muñoz, General Counsel, SVP, Tech & Innovation, Silicon Valley Leadership Group
Thomas Hudson, President, California Taxpayers Protection Committee
Adam Ruiz, Chair, Southwest California Legislative Council
Faith Bautista, President & CEO, National Asian American Coalition
Brandon M. Black, Director of Public Policy, Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
Thomas Hudson, President, Placer County Taxpayers Association
Dominik Knoll, CEO, Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce
Cindy Spindle, CEO, Garden Grove Chamber of Commerce


The Commission’s great U-Turn on mRNA vaccines

Here’s a change of heart we can support…

Back in January I published a blog post on this site asking the question of whether the new generation of COVID-19 vaccines will change our view on genetic engineering. In a statement back in July last year, the European Parliament said that “The derogation will facilitate the development, authorisation and consequently availability of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments”. According to EU legislation dating back to the early 2000s, genetic engineering is generally forbidden, with only a few exceptions. This was particularly driven by the scepticism of genetic engineering in agriculture. The Pfizer/Biontech, which to date remains the most prominent and incidentally most trusted COVID-19, something that surveys have also shown with our friends in the United States.

Now, the Commission is surfing the wave of the popularity of this vaccine in order to bank on mRNA shots for fighting COVID-19. And, as Euractiv reports, more voices are supportive of these vaccines in the fight against future pandemics: “Commenting on the news, centre-right MEP Peter Liese said he supported the decision to move towards mRNA vaccines, pointing out that they can be better adapted to mutations.”

Peter Liese is to be commended for his statement on this matter. Indeed, this new technology which relies on genetic engineering is very promising. For some experts, mRNA vaccines hold the key to faster and more effective vaccine programmes, capable of fighting multiple viruses in a single injection or providing protection against recalcitrant diseases (diseases characterised by poor survival and with little progress made in developing novel treatments).

In January, Moderna launched new programmes to develop mRNA vaccines for Nipah virus, HIV and influenza, adding to its portfolio of 20 mRNA candidates. Pfizer is also developing new mRNA vaccines, including one for seasonal flu. Several dozen other manufacturers and laboratories around the world are currently involved in similar initiatives.

The use of mRNA as a therapeutic or vaccine technique has been studied and developed for over a decade. Its interest seems to go beyond the field of vaccines against infectious diseases and also concerns cancers (see, for example, the immunotherapy products under development at BioNTech, or diseases with an autoimmune component (a treatment against multiple sclerosis is under development at BioNTech).

COVID-19 will have accelerated the large-scale evaluation of mRNA technologies. It is likely that this approach will expand massively in the coming years, also benefiting from advances in microencapsulation (nanoparticle) technologies. This technology could be refined by allowing nanoparticles to target specific cells by adding specific recognition molecules (e.g. ligands, receptors, antibodies) to the particle membrane. It will then be possible to deliver mRNA only to cells that need it (e.g. to compensate for the absence of a protein in genetic diseases, as with gene therapy, or to eliminate infected or tumour cells).

However, for this to happen the European Union ought to change its general approach to genetic engineering. While the support for the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine is commendable, more needs to be done from the point of view of legislation. There is a significant logical discrepancy when we are ready to use genetic engineering for medical purposes, but we somehow reject it in the field of agriculture. There are comparable health benefits to using similar technologies in our food; not least since the invention of vitamin B-heavy Golden Rice for the Asian market have genetically modified foods shown to be inherently linked to healthier food. On top of that, we can achieve our climate ambitions through new technologies that consume less resources at higher yields.

Originally published here.

Is Now The Time For A War On Plastic?

On Wednesday, the international consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center released a policy paper detailing the war on plastic, federal and state efforts at mitigating plastic waste, and potential legislative steps to better protect our environment.

In Deconstructing The War On Plastic the authors evaluate the issue of plastic waste in the United States including that of single-use plastics and alternatives and examine if legislative efforts to curb plastic waste will ultimately better serve the environment.

“In our report we highlight how local or state bans on plastic products often come with high negative environmental externalities,” said co-author Yaël Ossowski. “These bans ultimately push consumers to high-impact alternatives, and don’t necessarily reduce the total amount of plastic used by consumers. Rather than trying to ban their way out of this problem, we propose that state and local governments better collaborate to expand advanced recycling,” said Ossowski, also deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

“At the federal level, the combination of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and the CLEAN Future Act will make tackling plastic waste significantly more difficult. Both acts seek to put a moratorium on permits for advanced recycling facilities. This incredibly problematic because it hamstrings recycling efforts, which limits the nation’s ability to properly recycle plastic waste,” said co-author David Clement, North American Affairs Manager at CCC.

“Not only that, but the acts also seek to create a recycled content mandate for plastic products. Creating demand for recycled plastic, while at the same time limiting the capacity of plastic recycling facilities, is a recipe for disaster; specifically, one where demand for recycled plastic rapidly outpaces supply, which will drastically increase prices,” added Clement.

The authors propose a 4-step solution for the issue of plastic waste:

1) A ban on the export of plastic waste to countries that fail to meet environmental stewardship standards.

2) The expansion of advanced recycling and chemical depolymerization permits.

3) Embrace innovation and market solutions. There are a variety of new biodegradable plastics being brought to market, and those market solutions should be permitted to continue to develop.

4) Evaluate market mechanisms to price waste accordingly, so that externalities of mismanaged waste are not offloaded onto communities. We propose a full review of how the US can effectively price waste, in consultation with both consumers and producers.

Originally published here.

Europe Shouldn’t Follow Congress’ War on Plastic

Europe should steer clear of these heavy handed, and counterproductive initiatives…

At the Federal level in the United States, Congress has declared a war on plastics, specifically with the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and the CLEAN Future Act. Their goal is to ultimately reduce the amount of plastic waste that the US produces, which would in turn result in lower rates of mismanaged plastic ending up in the environment. On its face, the goals of congress are noble, but their policy prescriptions are incredibly misguided. It would be disastrous for Europeans if the EU followed America’s lead and replicated either of these Acts.

Replicating the CLEAN Future Act or the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act would be a disaster for Europe for two main reasons.

The first is that Congress is attempting to enact a moratorium on permits for plastic manufacturing facilities. The purpose of this is to stop the expansion of this industry, which in theory protects the environment from the emissions associated with production. But this fails to recognize that there are legitimate and environmentally conscious reasons to choose plastic over competing products. Take, for example, the shipment of baby food. Baby food in plastic containers, as opposed to glass alternatives, generates 33% feweremissions because of the energy required in the production of plastic and its lighter weight in transportation. Although this is just one niche example, this same principle could be applied to a near-infinite number of plastics.

Beyond questions on sustainability and competing products, the moratorium reeks of regulatory capture. For those unfamiliar, regulatory capture is when new laws are passed that insulate an existing industry from future competition, allowing them to solidify its market share. The bill’s moratorium on plastic facilities shields the existing industry from competition, and ensures that more environmentally conscious competitors are kept out of the market entirely. This is important for both those who oppose cronyism and corporate welfare, and those who want better environmental policies, especially because there are new almost entirely biodegradable plastic products coming to market. Preventing permits for innovators benefits the existing industry at the expense of consumers and the environment.

On top of a moratorium on plastic manufacturing, the Acts also seek to implement a moratorium on advanced recycling permits and chemical depolymerization. Through chemical depolymerization, all plastic can be either recycled, repurposed, or converted. Chemical depolymerization is the process of breaking down plastics, altering their bonds, and repurposing them into other products. There are countless examples of why this technology is key to dealing with mismanaged plastics, with innovators turning problematic plastic into everything from resin pelletsroadwaystiles for your home, and high strength graphene. If the US wants to tackle plastic waste, the federal government can’t at the same time limit advanced recycling capacity. By capping recycling facilities, these bills prevent the scalability of recycling efforts, which creates a giant hurdle for dealing with plastic waste. The goal of legislation should be to make recycling more affordable, which is only possible through more competition. 

To make matters worse, these Acts also create a recycled content mandate. This type of mandate has its pros and cons, but it is disastrous if it is enforced alongside a permit cap on advanced recycling.

Creating a recycled content mandate will drastically increase, by decree, the demand for

recycled plastic. In fact, the BFFPP Act, if followed through with the CLEAN Future Act,

would mandate upwards of 25% recycled content in plastic bottles by 2025, and 80% by 2040.

The issue here is that these mandates will limit the capacity of advanced recyclers to meet that demand. If there is a significant uptick in the demand for recycled plastic, and advanced recycling is not allowed to scale up to meet demand, we could see a situation where demand rapidly outpaces supply, which will only serve to drive prices upwards. Those inflated costs will mostly be shouldered by consumers, who will have those costs passed on to them in the form of higher prices. This trend is exactly what was seen in other countries who passed bio-ethanol mandates, which had the negative effect of significantly increasing prices for the crops used in the creation of ethanol. 

Europe should steer clear of these heavy handed, and counterproductive initiatives. Rather than doubling down on restrictions, Europe should embrace innovation and advanced recycling, which both enhances consumer choice and protects the environment. 

Originally published here.

Does the CDC’s Mask Mandate for 2-Year-Old Children Make Sense? A Look at the Science

The justifications for requiring young children to be masked are that either they are at-risk for COVID, or at-risk for being carriers of the virus.

In the age of COVID, flying carries significant risks for you and your family.

Part of that is the virus itself, but increasingly, parents are being kicked off flights because their young children are refusing to wear facemasks.

Across the US and Canada, hundreds of stories have been highlighted in which families have been physically removed from flights because their toddlers did not want to wear masks.

Whether it is on SouthwestJetBlueAmerican AirlinesSpirit Airlines, or United, practically every US airline has had a version of the horror story of a young family escorted off a flight because a kid didn’t want to wear a mask. There have been cases where single mothers with up to six children have been booted, and even kids who were eating before the flight took off.

Worse, many of these airlines permanently ban passengers who refuse to comply with this policy, even children.

This particularly concerns me as I will soon be taking an international flight back to the US with my two-year-old. She has never been forced to wear a mask, whether in daycare or travel in Europe, and I doubt she will leave it tight and snug for the 9-hour long-haul. Should I already have my lawyer on speed dial?

While many airlines have had similar policies for months, those rules are now based on an administrative order published by the Centers for Disease Control on January 29, 2021, following one of the bevy of executive orders signed by President Joe Biden in his first few days in office.

While Biden’s order requires masks for domestic and international travel, he leaves the specific guidelines to the CDC. But even though the CDC has been stringent on its rule of masks for all persons two and above, this directly contradicts what we know about COVID-19 and children.

At present, the justifications for requiring young children to be masked are that either they are at-risk for COVID, or at-risk for being carriers of the virus.

On the first point, all the available data we have from multiple studies in dozens of countries shows that children are not particularly at risk for hospitalization or death.

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 13.4 percent of COVID cases have been adolescent children under 18, mostly in the older age range. Young children fared better.

As of December 2020, when we had the most complete age breakdown, children 0-4 represented 1.3 percent of all COVID cases in the United States, at 212,879. Just over 2 percent of those were hospitalized (0.02 percent in total), and 52 in total had died.

For statewide data, in California, with the most number of cases in the country, there have so far been two COVID deaths recorded for children under five.

While every death related to COVID is indeed tragic, especially when it relates to young children, the relative risk is incredibly low.

But what about young children spreading the disease to their parents and grandparents?

A CDC-conducted study in Rhode Island in July 2020 found that the opening of childcare centers did not lead to a spread of coronavirus.

Further, one Icelandic study from December found that young children were half as likely to catch and spread the virus, and that “infected adults pose a greater danger to children than kids do to adults.”

A wide-ranging study conducted in Israel and published in February found that young people under 20 carry 63 percent less viral load than adults, meaning they have less propensity to spread the virus. That number is even lower among toddlers.

While the headlines would have us believe otherwise, with all the available data we have now, young children under six are not significant spreaders of COVID, even with potential variants.

Beyond that, Stanford’s Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, citing studies from Sweden and the World Health Organization, recommended in the Wall Street Journal that we avoid masking children up until at least 11, considering the low risk of infection and the very real hazard of stunting kids’ developmental progress.

Bhattacharya was one of the many prominent medical experts present—along with Sunetra Gupta of Oxford, Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, and Scott Atlas of Stanford—at the COVID roundtable held last month by Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis. All advised against masking children for various health reasons, though their views have now been banned from YouTube for discussing the topic.

Bans aside, the medical literature largely supports Bhattacharya’s claims that the benefits of masking children are “small to none,” while the costs are high.

How then can the CDC continue to mandate that toddlers wear masks on long travel journeys, especially when they cause a fraction of the risk of an adult? These rules seem to have been written by people who do not have young children, and do not understand why it is problematic.

To leave the toddler mask mandate in place severely limits the freedom of children and young families to travel, and stands against the scientific and medical facts.

If ever there was a time to allow science to inform our judgments, it is now. Otherwise, this is nothing more than pandemic theatre.

Originally published here.

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