eBay under fire: The digital marketplace accused of sidestepping environmental laws

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U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace announced on Wednesday that his office is going to sue eBay. 

A civil complaint was filed against the e-commerce behemoth, accusing it of being a conduit for the sale of illicit products that flout environmental protection laws.

This action, instituted by the United States on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), confronts the e-commerce giant with allegations of systematic violations of pivotal environmental and public health statutes. It’s a scenario interlacing the complexities of law, the dynamics of e-commerce, and the imperatives of environmental and public safety.

According to the complaint, eBay allegedly facilitated the sale of more than 343,000 aftermarket defeat devices. These devices, contravening the CAA, are accused of negating vehicle emission controls, contributing to air pollution and undermining public health initiatives.

Furthermore, the e-commerce platform is alleged to have been a marketplace for at least 23,000 prohibited pesticides. These, as highlighted in the complaint, were sold in defiance of FIFRA and even an explicit stop sale order issued to eBay in preceding years.

“eBay’s sale of emission control defeat devices, pesticides and other unsafe products poses unacceptable risks to our communities disproportionately impacted by environmental and health hazards,” said U.S. Attorney Peace. “Together with our partners, this office will vigorously enforce federal law against those whose conduct endangers public health and the environment.”

eBay is accused of facilitating the sale and distribution of products that directly contravene the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The case represents a nuanced exploration of statutory interpretation and application in the digital age. Under the CAA, eBay allegedly enabled the sale of over 343,000 aftermarket defeat devices. These devices, designed to bypass motor vehicle emission controls, have legal ramifications that transcend environmental degradation. They undermine EPA’s regulatory frameworks and state efforts to achieve air quality standards, raising intricate legal questions about liability and enforcement in online marketplaces.

eBay allegedly also played host to the sale of at least 23,000 unregistered, misbranded and restricted-use pesticides. The court examines the role and responsibility of e-commerce platforms in preventing sales that violate explicit EPA stop sale orders and broader federal regulatory frameworks.

With eBay accused of distributing more than 5,600 items containing methylene chloride, a chemical strictly restricted due to its associated health risks. The case will set precedent for the interpretation and application of TSCA’s Methylene Chloride Rule in the context of e-commerce.


Chinese cyber police officers charged in U.S. for harassment and spreading disinformation

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A complaint was unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn on Monday that charged 34 officers of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) national police — the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) — with harassing Chinese nationals residing in Brooklyn and elsewhere in the United States.

The defendants are allegedly involved in transnational repression schemes targeting U.S. residents whose political views and actions are disfavored by the PRC government, such as advocating for democracy in the PRC. The accused officers, believed to reside in the PRC, remain at large.

“As alleged, the Chinese government deploys an elite task force of its national Police — the 912 Special Project Working Group — as a troll farm to attack Chinese dissidents in our country for exercising free speech in a manner that the PRC government disfavors, and spread disinformation and propaganda to sow divisions within the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace.

Prosecutors claim that PRC deployed an elite task force known as the “912 Special Project Working Group” to operate as a troll farm. This group targeted Chinese dissidents living in the U.S., disseminated disinformation, and sought to create divisions within the country.

The complaint alleges that the accused officers created thousands of fake online personas on social media sites, including Twitter, to target Chinese democracy activists and critics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through online harassment and threats.

The officers disseminated official PRC government propaganda and narratives to counter and overwhelm the critical speech of Chinese activists, covering topics such as PRC’s political system, U.S. domestic and foreign policy, human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang Province, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The investigation also uncovered official MPS directions to group members to compose articles and videos based on certain themes targeting Chinese pro-democracy activists located abroad or the policies of the U.S. government. The group executed a standing order from MPS headquarters to harass a well-known critic of the PRC government and the CCP, making death threats and demanding that U.S. authorities arrest the victim.

“These cases demonstrate the lengths the PRC government will go to silence and harass U.S. persons who exercise their fundamental rights to speak out against PRC oppression, including by unlawfully exploiting a U.S.-based technology company,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “These actions violate our laws and are an affront to our democratic values and basic human rights.”