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West Virginia Democrat fires back at Trump criticism

CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has fired back at President Donald Trump’s criticism of the West Virginia Democrat for voting guilty on two articles of impeachment. Manchin says he — not Trump — has fought tirelessly for his constituents.

Manchin issued the response Saturday night on Twitter, a day after Trump tweeted that he was “very surprised & disappointed” with Manchin’s votes and claimed no president has done more for the state.

Trump carried West Virginia by a whopping 42 percentage points in 2016.

Manchin said that “no Democrat has worked harder in a bipartisan way in the hopes that you would succeed.”

He added that West Virginia residents “know exactly” who has worked day and night for the last five years to secure their health care and pensions, and “it wasn’t you.”

Trump asserted in a subsequent tweet Friday that Manchin was “just a puppet” for the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

“That’s all he is!” Trump tweeted.

Trump was acquitted by the Senate on Wednesday on charges that he abused his office after senators narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon witnesses for the impeachment trial.

In announcing his decision on the impeachment vote Wednesday, Manchin said the evidence presented by House managers clearly supported the charges brought against the president.

“I’ve read the transcripts thoroughly & listened to the witnesses under oath,” Manchin said Saturday on Twitter. “Where I come from a person accused defends themselves with witnesses and evidence.”

Trump continued his criticism of Manchin on Sunday, tweeting that “they are really mad at Senator Joe Munchkin in West Virginia. He couldn’t understand the Transcripts.”

Manchin is serving his second term as a U.S. senator and was the state’s governor from 2005 to 2010.

Manchin announced in September that he would not run for governor again, ending speculation on whether the moderate Democrat would challenge Jim Justice, a Trump-backed incumbent who ran as a Democrat but changed parties less than a year after taking office.

Manchin and Trump appeared to have a warmer relationship than the president has with most Democratic lawmakers. Trump invited him to the White House in August when the president presented former basketball player Bob Cousy with the Medal of Freedom. A month later, Manchin was again at the White House when Trump presented the Medal of Freedom to another former basketball great, West Virginia native Jerry West.

Republicans have gained the upper hand in West Virginia in recent decades. But the moderate Manchin won a second full term to the Senate in the 2018 elections in a tight race against a Trump-backed challenger.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who voted against impeachment, told Fox News on Thursday that people in the state are “rather mystified” by Manchin’s vote.

“I just feel that probably Sen. Schumer just pulled the noose a little tight and said, ‘Come on, everybody, we’re going to jump off this cliff together,’ and back here, West Virginians, they’re very surprised,” she said.

Bridal expo helps couples with wedding details

HUNTINGTON — There are some things you just don’t know until you are in a situation where you need to know. Wedding planning and all it entails is one of those things.

Though she’s been emceeing the KEE 100 Bridal Expo with her radio partner Dave Roberts for years, Jenn Seay said she still was caught off-guard by just how many details and decisions she had to make as she plans her July wedding.

“The details really do matter,” Seay said. “When everybody started asking, ‘What are your colors? Are you going to go to the salon the day of or are you going to stay at home? What time are you starting the day off?’ I don’t know. I didn’t know I needed to know all that. It’s the organization of all that. It helps bringing it all to you instead of you going to it.”

The 29th annual Bridal Expo — the largest bridal expo in the Tri-State — returned to Mountain Health Arena in downtown Huntington on Sunday, bringing vendors from all over to showcase their wares. From wedding dresses to food and honeymoons to realtors, the expo featured everything a couple needs to plan their dream day.

Thousands of dollars in door prizes were given away during the event, including prizes during the “Groom Smash” where three lucky grooms dug through cake baked with prizes inside.

Emily Sanson, of Charleston, is getting married on New Year’s Eve. She came to the expo in search of a caterer, and left with maybe too many options.

“Being able to taste things and see visualizations of what they offer has been really helpful,” she said.

Sanson said the hardest thing about wedding planning is staying in budget, but advocated for brides to hire a wedding planner and to not procrastinate on planning.

While Sanson had been to other bridal expos, Sunday was the first for Ashlee Ballard, of Greenup County, Kentucky, who still has some time to plan before her July 2021 wedding. She left the arena Sunday with some good ideas for food and a honeymoon, as well as two dress appointments.

“I can really jump into this process now,” she said.

Ballard said the hardest part about wedding planning so far has been the distance between her and her fiance. He lives on the other side of Kentucky, so it’s been all phone calls.

“The best thing has been being able to include my family and friends,” she said, surrounded by a host of bridesmaids.

The expo is also helpful for vendors. Lisa Farris, lead coordinator and decorator at Annie Lane Wedding and Event Resort in Chesapeake, Ohio, said the expo really helps them get their name out to everyone.

Farris said one piece of advice she would give a bride is to hire a wedding coordinator.

“A lot of people try to do things on their own now, but it’s hard to be in a wedding and coordinate a wedding,” Farris said. “I am a coordinator, but I know enough to know that when my two daughters got married, I hired that out because it would be hard for me to be in the wedding and coordinate it.”

The next area wedding expo is Sunday, March 1, at Marshall University. That expo goes from noon to 3 p.m. and is $5 to attend. It is free for Marshall students.

Unique Illinois privacy law leads to $550M Facebook deal

CHICAGO — Adam Pezen, Carlo Licata and Nimesh Patel are among millions of people who have been tagged in Facebook photos at some point in the past decade, sometimes at the suggestion of an automated tagging feature powered by facial recognition technology.

It was their Illinois addresses, though, that put the trio’s names atop a lawsuit that Facebook recently agreed to settle for $550 million, which could lead to payouts of a couple hundred dollars to several million Illinois users of the social networking site.

The lawsuit — one of more than 400 filed against tech companies big and small in the past five years, by one law firm’s count — alleges that Facebook broke Illinois’ strict biometric privacy law that allows people to sue companies that fail to get consent before harvesting consumers’ data, including through facial and fingerprint scanning. Privacy advocates hail the law as the nation’s strongest form of protection in the commercial use of such data, and it has survived ongoing efforts by the tech industry and other businesses to weaken it.

Attorneys who focus on privacy law predict that the Facebook settlement — if approved by a federal judge — will trigger a new round of lawsuits and make the targets of existing ones more likely to settle. Illinois’ legal landscape also could shape debates over privacy protection in other states and in Congress, particularly about whether individuals should have the right to sue over violations.

“We’re going to see a lot of constituents saying, ‘Why not me?’” said Jay Edelson, a Chicago attorney whose firm first sued Facebook for allegedly breaking Illinois’ law. “This settlement, it’s going to really make the point that having laws on the books is the difference between people getting to go to court and getting real relief, and otherwise just getting trampled by these tech companies.”

Although the buying and selling of consumer data has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, Illinois’ law — the Biometric Information Privacy Act — predates even Facebook’s iconic “like” feature and was a reaction to a single company’s flop.

Pay By Touch, a startup that teamed with grocery stores to offer fingerprint-based payments, had gone bankrupt and was expected to auction off its assets, including its database of users’ information. Worried about where that user data would wind up, Illinois lawmakers quickly passed a law in 2008 requiring companies to get consent before collecting biometric information and to create a policy specifying how that information will be retained and when it will be destroyed.

It also gave Illinois residents the right to sue for $1,000 over negligent violations and $5,000 for intentional violations.

For years, “literally nothing happened,” said John Fitzgerald, a Chicago attorney and author of a book on the law that is due out this year. He couldn’t find any record of a case filed before 2015.

Edelson’s firm and others that focus on class-action suits were first, accusing Facebook of failing to meet Illinois’ standard in multiple lawsuits filed in 2015. The three Illinois men fronting the class-action suit against Facebook said they were never told that the site’s photo tagging system used facial recognition technology to analyze photos then create and store “face templates.”

A federal judge later grouped the cases together as a class-action on behalf of Illinois Facebook users who were among the stored face templates as of June 7, 2011.

Facebook only changed the technology last year. The tag suggestion tool was replaced a broader facial recognition setting, which is turned off by default.

The Illinois law is the basis for two recent suits filed against Clearview AI, a facial recognition company that harvests images by scraping social media sites and other places and then sells access to its database to law enforcement agencies.

Facebook, Twitter, Venmo and YouTube have all demanded that Clearview stop harvesting their users’ images following investigative reports by The New York Times and Buzzfeed.

Although there are Illinois lawsuits against other major tech companies, including Google, Snapchat and Shutterfly, the vast majority of the cases are filed on behalf of employees who were directed to use fingerprint scanning systems to track their work hours and who accuse employers or the systems’ creators of failing to get their prior consent.

Illinois is one of three states that have laws governing the use of biometric data. But the other two, Texas and Washington, don’t permit individual lawsuits, instead delegating enforcement to their attorneys general.

The state’s Chamber of Commerce and tech industry groups have backed amendments to gut Illinois’ allowance of individual lawsuits or exempt time-keeping systems.

Illinois’ law puts “litigation over innovation,” said Tyler Diers, the Illinois and Midwest executive director of the industry group TechNet, whose members include Apple, Facebook and Google.

“This case exemplifies why consumer privacy law should empower state regulators to enforce rather than line the pockets of class action attorneys,” Diers said in a statement.

Facing Illinois’ law, some companies opt out of the state. Sony, for instance, refuses to sell its “aibo” robot dog to Illinois residents and says the device’s ability to behave differently toward individual people depends on facial recognition technology.

Backers of the law argue that it’s not difficult to comply — simply tell consumers you plan to use biometric data and get their consent.

State Rep. Ann Williams, a Chicago Democrat, said the ability to sue is critical for consumers facing global companies that make billions of dollars per year.

“If the penalty’s only a fine, that’s the cost of doing business for them,” Williams said. “A settlement like (the Facebook case), we’re talking about real money that will go to consumers.”

Attorneys who defend smaller companies, though, argue that the law should be narrowed to permit the use of fingerprint scanners to track employees’ hours.

“Small and medium-size businesses really do not have the resources to defend these cases or pay some big settlement,” said Mary Smigielski, a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith and a co-leader of the firm’s group focused on Illinois’ biometric law.

The Facebook case wound through courtrooms in Illinois and California for nearly five years before last month’s announcement of a settlement, days after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments.

Edelson said he hopes that the $550 million deal, which lawyers on the case described as a record amount for a privacy claim, will put pressure on attorneys to refuse credit monitoring or negligible cash payouts that are more typical in agreements to resolve data privacy suits.

People eligible for the settlement will be contacted directly and don’t need to take any action until then, attorneys on the case said.


Follow Kathleen Foody on Twitter: https://twitter.com/katiefoody

Ryan Fischer/The Herald-Dispatch 

Kelley Cusick of Huntington holds onto a baby goat from Mad Farm on Sunday, February 9, 2020, at Vintage Mountain Hippie in Milton.

Students earn first-place cyber defense award with Marshall partnership

HUNTINGTON — Future “white hat hackers” are being exposed to career possibilities in the growing field of cyber security through collaboration with Marshall University’s School of Forensic & Criminal Justice Sciences.

A team of five students at Cabell Midland High School in the Air Force ROTC, dubbed the “Cyber Knights,” earned a statewide first place-award during the CyberPatriot Air Force Association’s National Youth Cyber Defense Competition in December, with support from Marshall associate professor Josh Brunty and university students.

The CyberPatriot competition was established in 2009 to help push middle and high schoolers nationwide toward futures in cyber security and other STEM fields. The Cabell Midland students — Dylan Ashworth, Dylan Jenkins, Jackson Shouldis, Lilly Burns and Joe Savage — worked to solve real-world security defense problems during their winning round of the contest.

While the team’s success is a big deal for the school and county, Brunty said the most important part was the work leading up to it.

“These competitions make it fun, because you study all this advanced stuff, and you get out and actually see it in real-time, and it drives you crazy until you solve it,” Brunty said. “They’re learning, but they don’t realize they are.”

The students began working with Marshall two years ago. That helped them progress in the field and become familiar with university resources, said Maj. Henry Luke Jr., senior aerospace science instructor at CMHS.

“They’re learning that this is a career field that is available to them. It’s growing, and they get to see the resources that are available at the college level,” Luke said. “I think a lot of high school students are told about college but don’t really understand what the college experience is like, so working with Marshall and going there, they get to see that in action, and that’s kind of unique for them.”

The partnership is beneficial not only for the high schoolers, but for Brunty and Marshall students, as well.

“It’s been really interesting to see this happening and to be able to help out with what I’ve learned. It’s cool to see them really progress because they really do work hard and have gotten better over the course of the semester,” said Peyton Stevens, Marshall’s Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition president. “We learn new things from them, too. Sometimes we will see things that even we aren’t sure how to do.”

Brunty said he hopes the collaboration encourages participating students to stick around and continue their education at Marshall.

“My goal as a professor here is to champion them through high school and through college and into the workforce,” Brunty said. “We reap the benefits of that just by them being students.”

Long-term, Brunty said he looks to see the CyberPatriot competition expand to every middle and high school in the state and, eventually, to assign Marshall students to schools for service-based college credits.

Huntington High School has recently developed a CyberPatriot team, and Luke said the two schools and Marshall are looking forward to working together in the coming season.