December 9, 2021

China uses AI to create facial recognition surveillance of Uyghurs

The facial recognition system is programmed to send “Uyghur alarms” to the police

According to leaked documents revealed in the Washington Post, Huawei, China’s giant telecom, has helped to develop an AI system to identify Uyghurs, its oppressed Turkic minority in the province of Xinjiang.

Allegedly the facial recognition system is programmed to send “Uyghur alarms” to the police when Uyghurs are spotted by security cameras.

The documents say that Huawei worked with a company called Megvii in 2018 to develop a facial recognition system that could determine the ethnicity of all the people in a crowd, with special flags for Uyghur faces.

A Huawei spokesman told WaPo that the document was authentic but said that it was “simply a test” of a product that never became a “real-world application”.

Megvii is one of eight Chinese companies sanctioned by the Trump administration for involvement in  China’s persecution of the Uyghurs and other minorities. Another blacklisted company, Hikvision, which is currently the largest global provider of video surveillance equipment has also developed a Uyghur identification system.

According to CNet.com “Facial recognition tech raises privacy concerns because of its ability to track and identify people on a mass scale. Police in the US have used it to track and identify protesters, despite the United Nations' human rights chief calling for a moratorium against the practice.”

The PRC's Foreign Ministry denounced the report as “slander”. “Legal use of facial recognition in public areas in some parts of China is to improve social management, effectively prevent and attack criminal acts,” said a spokesman in a statement to CNBC. “China doesn’t go any further than countries in America and Europe. And the measures are not targeting any particular ethnic groups. The measures strengthen social security, thus earn support from people of all ethnic groups.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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