Respected biometrics researcher Anil Jain criticized for China connections

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Respected biometrics researcher Anil Jain criticized for China connections

Renowned biometrics expert and head of Michigan State University’s Biometrics Research Group Anil Jain is receiving criticism for what is perceived as a close relationship with Chinese authorities, including delivering a keynote speech at a major biometrics conference in the country, according to Coda.

Jain was a keynote speaker at the 2018 Chinese Conference on Biometrics Recognition (CCBR), and is on the conference’s advisory board.

The issue is that as Jain was delivering a paper titled “From the Edge of Biometrics: What Happens Next?” at CCBR, a UN human rights panel was accusing China’s government of running the formerly restive Xinjiang Province as a “massive internment camp shrouded in secrecy.” The Chinese government has been accused of using biometrics, including facial recognition and DNA matching, to systematically repress minority Uyghurs.

Professors in Australia and the U.S. told Coda that they would not support some Chinese institutions, and that information on forcible biometrics collection and internment camps in Xinjiang were widely reported before Jain’s participation in the 2018 conference. Jain did not reply to Coda requests for comment prior to the story’s publication.

Coda notes that several conference attendees are former students of Jain’s at MSU, including Chinese university and government employees.

University of Glasgow lecturer David Tobin, who studies security in China, told Coda that there is often a disconnect between researchers in technical fields and real-world applications of their research.

“It is imperative that natural scientists be trained in social sciences to understand these effects and the world they make things for and in ethics to be able to ask these questions when they construct, conduct, and disseminate their research,” he argues. “However, such training and knowledge is sadly lacking in these fields and public debates rely on false dichotomies between natural and social worlds and between facts and values.”

Several biometrics companies and researchers have been criticized for different levels of involvement with Chinese authorities over the past year.

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