Megvii accused of providing facial biometrics for repressive Chinese surveillance system

Human Rights Watch has identified Megvii’s Face++ as a supplier of biometric facial recognition technology for a mobile app used in China’s system for tracking citizens, in particular in the country’s Xinjiang Province. The rights advocacy organization’s report claims that the surveillance system targeting the country’s Muslim minority is more sophisticated than previously understood.

The report on “China’s Algorithms of Repression” is based a reverse engineered mobile app used by police and other officials for communications with the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP), which aggregates data about people to determine if they should face state actions such as detention in re-education camps.

The surveillance through biometrics and other technologies, along with the re-education camps which may hold up to 1.5 million people, have generated enormous controversy and provide a real-world example for those concerned about the proliferation of public facial recognition technology, with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio saying recently that companies participating in the system are complicit in Chinese government abuses. Chinese companies including Hikvision have faced significant sanctions for their participation in the system, but including Megvii in sanctions would be a significant escalation. Megvii is one of China’s AI unicorns, has scored among the leaders in NIST FRVT testing, and is reportedly considering an IPO on the New York stock exchange.

Face++ is used by the IJOP app “to check whether the photo on the ID matches the person’s face or for cross-checking pictures on two different documents,” according to Human Rights Watch. Megvii told ABC News that it does not have a relationship with IJOP, with a spokesperson saying the company has “no understanding of why Face++ technology may be found in the IJOP mobile app.” Megvii does, however, have a contract with the China Electronics Technology Group (CETG) Corp, the state-owned company a unit of which developed the IJOP app, according to Bloomberg. The Face++ license is for applications such as the delivery of e-government services such as paying bills, and unlocking mobile devices.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged American businesses to carefully consider their business relationships in the region in an address.

“We watch the massive human rights violations in Xinjiang where over a million people are being held in a humanitarian crisis that is the scale of what took place in the 1930s,” Bloomberg reports he said, in notes released by the State Department.

The Chinese government has lauded its surveillance program as a successful anti-terrorism campaign, citing the arrest of 13,000 terrorists over the last five years in an area which has gone multiple years without a terrorist attack. The government did not respond to requests for comment from ABC, and CETC did not respond to requests from Bloomberg.

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