Biometrics companies from China and Russia could be banned from NIST FRVT

Chinese media is reporting that biometrics companies from China could soon be excluded from NIST’s Facial Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT), if a bill proposed by U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) is passed.

South China Morning Post reports that the proposed bill would also block Russian companies, as well as those from North Korea and Iran, neither of which appears to have ever been home to a company participating in the globally-recognized accuracy tests. The bill is still in draft form and, according to the report, was sent to NIST for feedback in May.

The bill would also require the U.S. secretaries of state and commerce to file a report in a year on the use of facial recognition and other artificial intelligence technologies by foreign governments to repress citizens.

SCMP received a copy through a freedom of information act request. The publication also requested comment from Schatz, who it reports did not respond.

“Both China and US are trying to increasingly regulate their technological fortresses,” S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore Assistant Professor Michael Raska told the SCMP. “This means narrowing down the choices for critical digital infrastructure suppliers, including those providing algorithms for facial recognition.”

Chinese and Russian companies have consistently been among the leaders in FRVT tests. The U.S. is also considering blacklisting several Chinese biometrics companies. Senator Marco Rubio has also sent a letter to U.S.-based investment company MSCI asking it to justify an investment in Hikvision, one of the companies being considered for the blacklist.

“The mood in DC and the country has really changed in ways that aren’t reported in the Chinese press, so more constraints and conflict are inevitable,” Centre for Strategic and International Studies Senior VP James Andrew Lewis told the SCMP. “Facial recognition is a bit more complicated, as there is not the same level of unanimity about how to regulate its use, but there is unanimity about blocking Chinese technology – people look at Xinjiang and see that as part of the problems with facial recognition technologies.”

NIST declined to comment, but in an email also obtained under the same request, a NIST official told colleagues such concerns would be recurring, and that representatives of the standards and testing body had a very similar conversation with the Senate Commerce Committee in a hearing earlier this year.

Institute for China-American Studies Resident Senior Fellow Sourabh Gupta says attitudes in Washington about digital privacy, China, and particularly high-tech collaboration with China make it near certain the bill will eventually pass.

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