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Chinese tech patents tools that can detect, track Uighurs

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Chinese technology giants have registered patents for tools that can detect, track and monitor Uighurs in a move human rights groups fear could entrench oppression of the Muslim minority.

The series of patents, filed as far back as 2017, were unearthed by IPVM, a video surveillance research firm.

In a report published on Tuesday, IPVM reveals a cluster of patents for systems that could be used to analyse images for the presence of Uighurs, and hook into ongoing surveillance camera and facial recognition networks.

“We cannot ignore the fact that these technologies have been developed in order to be able to efficiently carry out..brutal oppression,” Rushan Abbas, executive director of the rights group Campaign for Uyghurs, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., said cameras that operated in public places in Xinjiang did not “target any specific ethnicity”.

United Nations officials have said China is transforming the Xinjiang region, where many Uighurs live, into a “massive internment camp”, with the patented tracing tech seen by rights groups as key to the crackdown.

“These technologies allow police in China to go through a large database of faces, and flag faces that the AI has marked as non-Chinese, or Uighurs,” says Charles Rollet, a researcher with IPVM. “There are major human rights implications”

The U.N estimates that more than a million Chinese Muslims, many of whom are from the minority Uighur ethnicity, have been detained in the province of Xinjiang, where activists say crimes against humanity and genocide are taking place.

China has denied any abuse and says its camps in the region provide vocational training and help fight extremism.

Research by human rights groups suggests that Chinese tech firms are building Uighur detection systems, using facial recognition to alert authorities to peoples’ whereabouts, and predictive policing tools to identify which to detain.

Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch said the world should be alarmed by the use of tech in Uighur persecution.

“Imagine if the US were a full-on dictatorship, imprisoning Black people just for being Black, and there was technology deployed across the country to detect where Black people were, so they could be hunted down,” she said.

“That’s what we are seeing in China — and the world needs to pay way more attention.”

US spillover

The debate over the role of corporations in China’s treatment of the Uighurs is increasingly spilling over internationally, with the United States applying sanctions to Chinese tech firms accused of abetting the persecution.

The incoming Biden administration this week returned a donation from former US senator Barbara Boxer, who had registered as a lobbyist for Hikvision, a video surveillance firm blacklisted by the US government in 2019.

Boxer’s firm, Mercury Public Affairs, did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the IPVM report, many top China security camera manufacturers have offered “Uyghurs analytics”, including the three largest firms: Hikvision, Dahua and Uniview.

Hikvision told Reuters in 2019 that the firm “takes global human rights very seriously” and that its technology was also used in shops, traffic control and commercial buildings.

One patent application, filed by the Chinese tech giant Huawei in conjunction with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, describes how AI can tell if a pedestrian is Uighur or not.

“Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination,” the company said in a statement emailed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Identifying individuals’ race was never part of the research and development project. It should never have become part of the application and we are taking proactive steps to amend it.”

Another patent from the facial recognition start-up Megvii mentions using a tool that can tell if Uighurs are present.

The company told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that its patent language was “open to misunderstanding” but that “Megvii has not developed and will not develop or sell racial or ethnic labelling solutions.”

The scale of persecution means tech firms in China will be increasingly implicated in some form of abuse, Rollet said.

“If you’re a Chinese tech company – in particular one that builds facial recognition – and the police are customers, you are going to have this kind of Uighur-detecting analytics,” he said.

The report also discovered similar patents filed by firms that are not directly linked to surveillance.

A patent field by the e-commerce giant Alibaba described technology to detect race, though it did not specify Uighurs.

“I am shocked there are so many technology firms helping the Chinese government watch us,” said Jevlan Shirmemmet, a Uighur activist living in Turkey who says his mother is detained in a Chinese internment camp.

“If this technology helps them persecute Uighur people — why are they making it.”

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Iran

Tehran, Yerevan to boost coop. in joint tech. projects

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Tehran, Yerevan to boost coop. in joint tech. projects

Heading a high-ranking delegation, Armenian Minister of Economy Vahan Karubian met and held talks with Iranian Vice President for Science and Technology Sorena Sattari so as to discuss the conditions for the development of the relations between the two countries in the field of technological infrastructure and scientific achievements.

Referring to Iran’s program and initiatives to return Iranian elites to the country, he said, “First, some mechanisms are provided for their return to the country. For example, by creating science parks, innovation centers, and innovation factories, we pave the way for elite activities in the country and then encourage them to return home.”

He went on to say that through this plan, in 3 years, 2,000 Iranian students, graduated from the top 100 universities in the world, have returned to the country.

Given that this model is closer to the culture of Armenia, it is certainly more applicable to the officials and managers of this country for the return of their elites. Iran is also ready to provide Armenia with its native model, Sattari said.

Sating that Iran owns the largest start-ups in the region specialized in the field of information and communication technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, stem cells, as well as about 50 science parks, he said, “Today, 98% of the medicine needed in the country are produced domestically by Iranian experts.”

He also expressed Iran’s readiness to assist Armenia in the development of new technologies.

Armenian Minister, for his part, welcomed the implementation of a joint project in the field of technology parks, saying that Iran enjoys high scientific and technological capacities, his country interested in using them.

Armenia seeks a program to repatriate its elites and educated people from all over the world. Therefore, elite return program implemented in Iran can be used in Armenia indigenously, he added.

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Iran

Indonesia sends seized Iran tanker to Batam for investigation

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Indonesia sends seized Iran tanker to Batam for investigation

The two supertankers, with crew members from Iran and China, were seized last Sunday (Jan 24) in Indonesian waters near Kalimantan island. 

The MT Horse, owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company and MT Freya, managed by Shanghai Future Ship Management Co, had a total of 61 crew members on board.

“The ships will arrive in Batam at around 3pm to 4pm later today,” Wisnu Pramandita, spokesman of the Indonesian coast guard, told Reuters.

Wisnu said some of the crew remained in the supertankers, but others were being detained on coast guard ships for questioning while the investigation was underway.

Wisnu told Reuters on Monday that the ships were “caught red-handed” transferring oil from MT Horse to MT Freya and that there was an oil spill around the receiving tanker.

Iran said on Monday that MT Horse was seized over a “technical issue” and had asked Indonesia to explain the seizure.

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AstraZeneca offers to bring forward some Covid vaccine deliveries to EU

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AstraZeneca has offered to bring forward some deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to the European Union while the bloc has asked the British drugmaker if it can divert doses from the UK to make up for a shortfall in supplies, European officials told Reuters.

The Anglo-Swedish company unexpectedly announced on Friday it would cut supplies to the EU of its vaccine candidate in the first quarter of this year, a move that a senior EU official said meant a 60 per cent reduction to 31 million doses for the bloc.

That complicated the EU’s vaccination plans, after Pfizer had also announced a temporary slowdown in deliveries of its vaccine, and triggered an outcry in Brussels and EU capitals.

Two European officials said on Tuesday that AstraZeneca at two extraordinary meetings on Monday had offered the EU to bring forward to February 7th the start of deliveries from an initial plan to begin on February 15th.

One of the sources, briefed on talks, said that AstraZeneca had also revised upward its supply goals for February compared to the cuts announced last week, but the company offered no clarity on supplies for March.

This appears to be an overture by AstraZeneca to try and keep the peace with the EU as the row over its sudden cut to deliveries escalates, damaging trust between Brussels and the drugmaker before the shot has been approved in the region.

The second EU official, directly involved in the talks, said however there was no offer to increase supplies.

AstraZeneca has quarterly supply targets. Therefore an increase in February, if not followed by a rise in March, may not constitute an overall increase in the quarter.

The head of Lithuania’s drugs watchdog Gytis Andrulionis told Reuters AstraZeneca on Monday increased its planned supplies for February for Lithuania and other EU countries compared to Fridays cuts, but noted that was still not enough to comply with the EU contract.

AstraZeneca was not immediately available for comment.

Inadequate answers

After Monday’s meetings, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said AstraZeneca had not offered adequate answers to questions posed by the EU.

The EU official involved in the talks also said that the EU had explicitly asked AstraZeneca whether it could divert to the 27-nation bloc doses produced in Britain, at least through March.

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But the company did not answer these questions, the official said.

AstraZeneca has said the revised timetable was caused by production issues in Europe. One EU senior official told Reuters last week that the problem was at a vaccine factory in Belgium run by AstraZeneca’s partner Novasep.

A spokesman for the EU Commission declined to comment on details of the talks with AstraZeneca, but added that the EU wanted “a precise delivery schedule”.

On December 30th Britain granted emergency approval to the shot developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. A decision on authorisation in the EU is expected on Friday.

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