U.S. considers blacklisting Megvii, Hikvision and other Chinese biometric companies
Hikvision, Megvii, and other Chinese biometric companies could soon be blocked from acquiring components and software from American suppliers by U.S. lawmakers, as sources have told the New York Times that the Trump administration is concerned about China as an economic and geopolitical threat, but also about China’s surveillance industry, and the biometric facial recognition technology provider’s role in it.
Megvii said in a statement, also reported by Bloomberg, that it is “not aware of being on any U.S. government list,” and that it is a private company focused on commercial, rather than political solutions. The company also says its guidelines and safeguard to prevent unintended misuse are continuously reviewed. It also notes that its software is not designed or customized by the company to target or label ethnic groups.
“We are concerned about the well-being and safety of individuals, not about monitoring any particular demographic groups,” Megvii says. “We require our clients not to weaponize our technology and solutions and not to use them for illegal purposes, including the infringement of human rights.”
It is not clear how reliant Megvii is on U.S. technology, but research published earlier this year by Megvii was performed on Nvidia GPUs, and Megvii also reportedly uses Google AI tools. The company does not, however, have major sales in the U.S.
Megvii is one of the leading global suppliers of facial recognition technology, with more than 260 municipal deployments, but Trueface CEO Shaun Moore told Bloomberg that despite the performance of Megvii’s technology, his bank, casino, and government agency customers are not comfortable using the Chinese company’s technology. Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden appears to be an investor in the company, however, and it was rumored in March to be considering an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. Human Rights Watch has since implicated the company in China’s repressive ethnic surveillance system in Xinjiang Province, however.
The possibility of the U.S. blacklisting Hikvision was raised late last year, as the extension of a ban on government use of the company’s technology was considered. The company hired representation in Washington last year to counter the narrative that it is too close to the Chinese government, and too involved in its repression of minorities, including Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province.