Last Week in Cyberpunk 4/16/19 – The Harsh Reality Week

Cyberpunk Reality

Organ Harvesting: the Latest Horror in Dystopian Reality for Uyghurs in Chinese Concentration Camps


Source: Extranewsfeed.com

Back in January CNN broke the story of alleged re-education (read: concentration) camps that the Chinese government were placing Muslim Uyghur minorities in (China’s government prefers the term ‘vocational training center’). Numbers are unclear, but from 800,000 to possibly 2 million Uyghurs may have been detained in camps that the Chinese foreign ministry is refuting as “complete lies told with ulterior motives”. But leaks are getting out, like one Mihrigul Tursun who told a tale of detention and torture to the US Congressional Executive Commission on China in 2018.

The Uyghurs who have experienced being in the camps describe the experience as “cultural genocide”, with camps giving forced lessons on Communist party propaganda coupled with region-wide bans on Uyghur customs and traditions. In early January, Chinese authorities led a carefully supervised tour to show some activities in these centers, where the inmates were seen taking Mandarin lessons, painting, dancing, and singing the song “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”.

What happened to Tursun, you ask? Well, she was returning to China from Egypt with her eight-week-old triplets when the authorities stopped her for questioning. After they took away her babies and detained her for 3 months, she was told upon her release that one of her sons died in an operation. They gave her no explanations as to why they took her babies, or why they needed to put in a hospital, or why they had scars at the base of their necks. They then took away her passport and kept a watchful eye on her.

Two years later, they returned to take her to the concentration camp. Inmates ranged from 17 to 62 years of age, and the camp was so crowded people had to take turns sleeping and standing.

Finally, Tursun was able to get released with the help of the US government. But if only the problems were as simple as that.

There were later reports that Uyghurs were being offered “free health checkups” except that all that was done was a blood collection, without telling the patients what their results were. This week, an exiled Uyghur oncology surgeon from Urumqi decided he had to speak out on what was happening in the concentration centers.

Enver Tohti recalls when he was called to remove a liver and two kidneys from an executed prisoner. Except the prisoner wasn’t dead yet. The Chinese execution squad had shot him through the right of his chest so he would have time to remove the organs while the man was still alive, in order to keep the organs fresh. He was to remove the organs without any anesthetic, too.

That happened in 1995. Years later, he released how widespread and systematic this process had become, and in 1998 worked with a British media company to report on how cancer rates were spiking among Uyghur workers who were laboring in a Nuclear testing facility.

Tohti believes that this practice of organ harvesting sprang from a strong demand from wealthy Saudis. According to him, demand far outweighs supply, which would explain the compulsory blood sample collections from Uyghurs, to create a “live organ-matching database”.

After all, according to the director of Saudi Center for Organ Transplants Dr. Shaheen, 410 Saudis had purchased organs from black markets in China, Egypt, and Pakistan. And according to the European Parliament’s public health committee, illegally harvested kidneys can go for as much as USD $165,000 each.

It’s now possible to see signs on the floor of airports such as in Xinjiang that gives priority access to people transporting human organs.


Source: Epoch Times

There is little else more dystopian that I can think of than this kind of government-sanctioned DNA database of Uyghurs to allow for the systematic incarceration for human organ harvesting and all kinds of other torture than this story.

As journalist CJ Werleman points out in his article covering this story, “These crimes against humanity are every bit as horrific as they are unimaginable, but given Uyghur activists have described to me and many others how Uyghur Muslims detained in concentration camps are being subjected to gang rapes, sterilization programs, systematic torture, forced marriage to Han Chinese citizens, forced disappearances and executions, there’s every reason to believe claims of live-organ harvesting barely scratch the surface of what is the largest cultural genocide of Muslims in modern times.”

Alexa is Watching You

“I’m watching you pee….”

According to a report from Bloomberg that comes as a surprise to no one, Amazon representatives and employees have admitted to listening in on the private conversations and intimate moments of those who own Alexa-powered smart devices. While the official statement by an Amazon spokesperson claims that most interactions with Alexa are kept private and select clips are transcribed and forwarded to reviewers to “improve the customer experience”. Similar to the process experienced by Facebook moderators (although the abuse is suffered less by employees and distributed to the users’ privacy), hundreds or possibly thousands of Amazon employees across the globe are tasked with listening to short audio samples in order to improve Alexa’s voice recognition software, which, y’know, Amazon neglected to tell its customers on the AI’s FAQ page.

While users can choose to opt out of their personal recordings being analyzed by these reviewers through Alexa’s privacy settings (for now), clips are allegedly only stored after users activate their devices, and the selected clips’ user information is not shared with employees, no additional safeguards have been put in place to protect user identity, unlike Google, which distorts their Google Assistant users’ voices. Additionally, Amazon employees have admitted to receiving intimate, disturbing, or “possibly criminal” clips, such as a child crying out for help or a woman singing in her shower, which have either been captured as background noise or due to errors in Alexa’s voice recognition. In some cases, clips depicting potential sexual assaults have been captured but gone unreported to the authorities because “it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere”, which is the kind of atrociously apathetic response that’s to be expected from a megacorporation.

Those of you who are not concerned by the fact that complete strangers have access to personal details that you would rather not be made public might be thinking something along the lines of, “Who cares if some pencil pusher on another continent can hear me after I rub one out on the couch and passes it around to their coworkers? At least there’s still some level of anonymity. All Amazon wants to do is get me to buy things I don’t need.” This is valid for the time being, but all it takes is one addendum to the Patriot Act (or equivalent “anti-terrorist” laws outside the U.S.) in order for the switch on your smart assistant’s microphone to be locked into the on position and all your audio recordings to be seizable by the NSA, adding to the ever-growing list of 1984-style eyes and ears that, at times, you might forget are there. This is especially jarring because personal assistants are designed with a voice recognition range that surpasses that of phone and laptop microphones. Should some law under the pretense of flushing out illegal immigrants be passed, all it could take is one out-of-context conversation or one night of experimentation with illicit substances to land yourself on a government watchlist at the very best. If you or someone you know happens to own an Amazon Echo or another smart device, make sure to keep on your toes, because someone may be listening in.

Silk Road 2 Founder Dread Pirate Roberts 2 Caught, Jailed for 5 years

It has been announced by a court in England that that the operator of Silk Road 2, Dread Pirate Roberts 2 (DPR2), is technologist and privacy activist Thomas White who has been now sentenced to 5 years and 4 months in prison. The arrest of White occurred in 2014, but England’s strict reporting rules on court cases prevented any type of information leaking out. White, up till now, had been out on bail since his arrest in 2014 and had under his real name developed a reputation in cyber security circles and became familiar under the moniker ‘The Cthulhu,.’, and a was regular source (again, using his real name) in several news articles as an expert in security and Tor related subjects. White pleaded guilty to crimes while operating Silk Road 2 including drug trafficking, money laundering, and the creation of child pornography.

Paul Chowles, an investigator from the National Crime Agency (NCA) who worked on the case, stated that White had in his possession the private encryption key belonging to Dread Pirate Roberts 2 that is a strong indication White is DPR2. White’s motivation, Chowles believes, was a mix of financial gain and power.

To check out the full story, go here.

Julian Assange Arrested in London

The founder of Wikileaks was arrested last thursday in London by British police, allowed in by the Ecuadorian ambassador. Assange was formally charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.” Jen Robinson, Assange’s lawyer, also confirmed he is also facing extradition to the US due to breach of bail conditions and his involvement with Chelsea Manning. If sent to the US, he will surely suffer the same fate as her.

To clear a few things up, the allegation that he helped Chelsea Manning crack a password isn’t new. The Obama administration had know about it for a long while but decided not to pursue Assange as it would be a brutal blow to freedom of the press. Trump does not seem to have such problems. The second thing that’s been flying around, the allegation that Assange helped Manning hack into DOJ databases she had no valid access to, is false, as the actual accusing documents state that Assange helped her make a new username to access the DOJ to keep her anonymity (which, legally, isn’t hacking). Assange was helping his source keep her identity secret, and every good journalist does not reveal his sources for doing so would put them at risk. Assange being arrested puts all journalists and seekers of the truth at risk. This shows that everyone can be touched, and that the Powers that Be don’t care about the truth.

I am in no position to dispute claims that Assange is a past rapist and a generally shitty person. I’m sure he probably is and deserves a circle stomp for it. BUT, what his arrest represents puts everyone who wants the truth in danger. Wikileaks exposed war crimes, and told us tales of wrongdoing the US government didn’t want to share to the world out of fear of reckoning (which, I fear, despite exposure, the reckoning never came). What he did (not who he is) is important and deserves defending. Wikileaks is big, Assange is big, Chelsea Manning is big, but authority can always decided to turn their attention on those who are much smaller and guilty of much smaller slights. Like calling the president a motherfucker.

Trump? You’re a motherfucker. Fuck you, you Press hating piece of shit.

This saga is long, complex, and far too big to cover in LWIC in the detail it deserves. For a wonderful and in depth analysis (and the source of much of the information here), check out this article.

Video Games

Nintendo Puts Labo VR Kit on Market

As we hoped and feared, it turns out that Nintendo had plans all along for those latent VR capabilities that a hacker uncovered in the Switch’s source code a few months back. Having just released a new line of Labo kits that essentially operate in a manner similar to Google Cardboard, Nintendo recently announced it has plans to update Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in order to give them virtual reality capabilities.

Unfortunately, for the time being the VR kits have the typical side effect of dizziness and headaches when worn for too long, which is commonly associated with cheaper headsets, and no VR-exclusive games have been released for the console yet. However, the basic kit is only $40, which marks it as the most affordable major player in the virtual reality industry, and foreshadows great things to come for the Switch and future Nintendo consoles. If you’d like to see the genesis of the future Ready Player One predicted for yourself, you can get a Nintendo Labo VR kit here.

Bot Vice: Now on Nintendo Switch

Speaking of the Nintendo Switch, fans of gallery shooters and ’90s-era family-friendly video games, rejoice! Bot Vice, DYA Games’ tribute to MegaMan-style video games, has just been ported to the Nintendo Switch as of April 10th. As Erin Saver, ex-cop turned cyborg vigilante, you’ll have to blast your way to the top of the Tominaka Plaza building before the nefarious Wildbots, a gang of genetically and cybernetically altered beasts, reduce it to rubble. With 40 minutes on the clock and 25 levels (more, if you include the game’s bonus levels), Bot Vice is a fast-paced, hyperactive shoot-em-up from start to finish. If you own a Switch and enjoy the retro aesthetic, you can get yourself a digital copy here for 10 USD.


Notice a cyberpunk story we missed this week? Let us know down below or on social media.


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3 Comments
  1. I’m deeply impressed by the way this blog took, from games and literature to more political postings. Technic reviews are obvious. Thanks a lot!

    Reply
    • Aw thank you! Really glad you enjoy it. We live in a cyberpunk dystopia, so not covering what goes on in the real world just doesn’t make sense. Plus, I really enjoy cursing out the president so covering reality lets me do that! Wheee!

      Reply
  2. >”BUT, what his arrest represents puts everyone who wants the truth in danger.”

    No it does not. You are parroting Assange’s defense team’s arguments. I would suggest reacting to the indictment and not to their straw man arguments.

    https://www.lawfareblog.com/wikileaks-and-lost-promise-internet

    Reply

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