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US to Award Contracts for Building Mexico Border Wall

Trump has said the wall will cost $12 billion, while Republican leaders in Congress have pegged its cost 20 percent higher than that. An internal Homeland Security report forecast the total cost could be as much as $21.6 billion.

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FILE - Workers continue work raising a taller fence on the Mexico-U.S. border separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico, and Sunland Park, New Mexico, Jan. 25, 2017.

The U.S. government plans to start awarding preliminary contracts by April for construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, to fulfill one of President Donald Trump’s principal campaign promises.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it will accept “concept papers” for the wall’s design beginning next week and will choose the best ones by March 20. The agency will then ask vendors for construction cost estimates and, after reviewing their bids, begin granting contracts by mid-April — a remarkably quick schedule for a government construction project.

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Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that the border-wall project was “way ahead of schedule.”

“We’re going to build a wall, don’t worry about it,” Trump told a cheering crowd of his supporters. “We’re building a wall. We’re building the wall. In fact, it’s going to start soon.”

Cost estimates vary

The Customs and Border Protection agency, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, did not indicate where the initial phase of construction will begin.

Trump has said the wall will cost $12 billion, while Republican leaders in Congress have pegged its cost 20 percent higher than that. An internal Homeland Security report forecast the total cost could be as much as $21.6 billion.

Since the earliest stages of his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump has vowed to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico as a way to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking. He has assured Americans that Mexico would pay for the wall — a claim denied repeatedly by Mexico’s elected leaders — and the issue has soured relations between the two countries.

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Relations with Mexico sour

The White House has said Trump has a “buffet of options” to make Mexico to pay for the wall, including imposing a 20 percent tax on all imports from Mexico. Critics have said that scenario would mean American consumers actually would be paying for the wall.

The border barrier primarily would be aimed at stopping illegal immigrants from entering the United States. However, many Mexicans regard the idea of a wall as an insult, and authorities on both sides of the international border have predicted that rough terrain and large stretches of private property straddling the border could make building the wall a long, complicated project.(VOA)

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Tech Giant Google Secretly Gathering Health Information of Millions of US Citizens

According to Google, some of the solutions it is working on with Ascension are not yet in active clinical deployment, but rather are in early testing

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The Google name is displayed outside the company's office in London, Britain. VOA

Google is reportedly gathering health information of millions of US citizens — without informing them or their doctors — to design an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven software, the media reported.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, “Google is engaged with one of the US’s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states” and at least 150 Google staffers may have access to the data.

St. Louis-based faith-based healthcare organisation Ascension is sharing lab results, diagnoses and hospitalisation records — as well as health histories complete with patient names and dates of birth — with Google, the report claimed.

“The initiative, code-named ‘Project Nightingale,’ appears to be the biggest effort yet by a Silicon Valley giant to gain a toehold in the health-care industry through the handling of patients medical data,” the report said.

The crunching of health data is the next big frontier for tech giants as Apple to Amazon and Microsoft are aiming big to infuse data findings into their devices and solutions in the burgeoning healthcare space.

The New York Times later wrote that “dozens of Google employees” may have access to sensitive patient data and some may have downloaded that data too.

As part of “Project Nightingale”, Ascension uploaded patient data to Google’s Cloud servers.

In a blog post, Google tried to clarify its partnership with Ascension.

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FILE -Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the keynote address of the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., May 7, 2019. VOA

“All of Google’s work with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations regarding patient data, and come with strict guidance on data privacy, security and usage,” said Tariq Shaukat, President, Industry Products and Solutions, Google Cloud.

Google said it has a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with Ascension, which governs access to Protected Health Information (PHI) for the purpose of helping providers support patient care.

“To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension’s data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we’re offering under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data,” said the company.

Ascension also issued a statement, saying it is working with Google to optimise the health and wellness of individuals and communities, and deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients and clinical providers across the continuum of care.

“All work related to Ascension’s engagement with Google is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliant and underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascension’s strict requirements for data handling,” said the healthcare company.

Also Read: Microsoft to Implement California’s Digital Privacy Law Throughout the US

According to Google, some of the solutions it is working on with Ascension are not yet in active clinical deployment, but rather are in early testing.

“This is one of the reasons we used a code name for the work — in this case, Nightingale,” it added.

However, neither Google nor Ascension directly replied to the WSJ report.

In 2017, Google partnered with the University of Chicago Medical Centre to develop machine learning tools capable of “accurately predicting medical events — such as whether patients will be hospitalised, how long they will stay, and whether their health is deteriorating despite treatment for conditions such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, or heart failure.” (IANS)