Tennessee’s mental health investment and the military’s loophole to data

in May 3rd, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of May 3, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

Happy News Wellness month! Whether you’ve been with us since last year or recently joined our community, we’re delighted to welcome you to our favorite campaign of the year in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. News Wellness is a term we coined to explore how we can continue to be informed while balancing our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It’s one of our core values as a team, pushing us to provide healthful news experiences where no edition is too stressful, depressing, or void of any next steps (when appropriate).

Throughout May, we’ll be sharing resources, social content, and more around how we can all practice better news wellness. Help us kick things off with our second annual News Wellness Study. Your thoughts will help us continue to learn, serve this community, and share insights with others.


Spurred by pandemic, Tennessee invests $250 million into student mental health

Fri Apr 23

While rates of depression among youth increased during the pandemic, spending on mental health services remained stagnant. After putting plans on hold last year, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee recently reintroduced a proposed $250 million trust fund for student mental health after his own daughter had suicidal thoughts. The untouchable endowment would provide for services at K-12 schools, such as trauma-informed training for educators, mental health awareness campaigns, and initiatives to curb bullying, violence, and suicide.

While the move is seen as positive, a few concerns remain.

  • First (as the endowment is untouchable), the interest generated is what funds the mental health and education services. However, recent figures show it would be a third of initial estimates, making the endowment approach less attractive.
  • Second, the plan doesn’t include funding to hire counselors, psychologists, or nurses, despite Tennessee’s poor provider-to-student ratio and over 60% of children depending upon these school-based services. For example, while the nationally recommended psychologist-to-student ratio is 1:700, Tennessee’s is currently 1:2,500.

Ultimately, the fund was approved within the $42 billion state budget this week, without concession to proposed amendments. The spending plan takes effect July 1. 

Some additional resources...


Smartphone data is both used by U.S. military and exposing it

Mon Apr 26

A legal loophole is granting the U.S. military access to our smartphone data. While the fourth amendment requires the U.S. military to obtain a warrant before requesting data from a third party provider (such as a phone company), it does not require one when they go through a broker. For years now, the U.S. government has been buying from such brokers, who first buy that data from many small app makers and websites to aggregate and sell. 

But now, the military is realizing their data is being bought and sold, too. As early as 2016, a U.S. defense contractor realized they were able to track military operations through the phones of soldiers; they even uncovered a staging area for U.S. special-operations and allied forces in Syria that had yet to be disclosed to the public. The reaction has largely been to make personnel do the hiding. The NSA (National Security Agency) issued guidance last year recommending military members disable location-sharing services, grant their mobile apps as few permissions as possible, and turn off advertising permissions all together. 

How is this all possible? It all comes back to the fact that the U.S. lacks a single, comprehensive federal law to regulate data collection on all sides — unlike, for example, Europe, where laws exist to protect consumer data. Though some efforts are emerging: 

  • Last year, the U.S. cracked down on the use of TikTok by service members out of fears of military data being accessed by the Chinese-owned app. (China responded by restricting their own military personnel from buying Teslas).
  • This year, two legislators introduced “The Fourth Amendment Is Not for Sale Act,” a bi-partisan bill that would both require government agencies to obtain warrants for commercially available data and bar them from ill-gotten data like with Clearview AI.
  • A separate legislation is supposedly upcoming to restrict the sale of any U.S. consumer data that can lead to national security risks. 

Some additional resources... 

  • Tracking of military through smartphone data: Wall Street Journal
  • Threat to national security posed by commercially available data: Wall Street Journal
  • Purchase of location data by U.S. defense agency: Verge
  • Details on bi-partisan bill from its proposed legislator: Wyden

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For crying out cloud, how much data can they access?!

Art Credit: ASCII Art Archive, Joan Stark

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