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China’s controversial face biometrics standards co-authored by Dahua, Hikvision, Yitu: IPVM

Critics raise alarm on China’s domestic surveillance practices

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Leading Chinese biometrics and security camera providers helped to craft standards for ethnicity-based identification, according to an IPVM report detailing the use of ethnicity tracking by Chinese public surveillance systems that use face biometrics.

IPVM specifically identifies surveillance camera manufacturers Unikview, Dahua, and Hikvision as co-authors of China’s controversial GA/T1400.3-2017 public surveillance standards, an especially worrisome development given China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority. Within this biometric standard, IPVM found an ethnicity identifier code that includes skin color and other distinguishing features.

Another standard that specifically focuses on face biometrics is GA/T1756-2020. It features skin color analysis using attributes such as “white, black, yellow, brown, other” skin color. The standard, co-written by facial recognition unicorn Yitu according to the IPVM report, was passed in November 2020 and is projected to become effective in May 2021.

Dahua denies involvement in creating the standard.

Other standards have also been adopted on the provincial and municipal levels that will dictate China’s public surveillance procedures. When implemented into surveillance systems, the biometric capabilities covered by the standard can detect specific ethnic groups such as the Uyghurs more easily, making the technology susceptible to abuse.

The surveillance standards have since been adopted by several Chinese jurisdictions such as Beijing, Guizhou, Shaanxi, Hubei, and Shanghai. Additional guidelines regulate that those surveillance cameras record persons entering and exiting residential buildings.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever seen public security camera networks that are tracking people by these sensitive categories explicitly at this scale,” said the IPVM report’s author, Charles Rollet.

According to criticisms reviewed by Reuters, the framework for biometric racial and ethnic profiling carries several implications on the domestic and global level. Within China, these guidelines will further aid the abuse of minority groups through unfair surveillance practices in public spaces and smart city housing projects. Similarly, this discrimination can translate into other countries that consume Chinese-made surveillance technology. Chinese surveillance practices have thus already met staunch opposition in many foreign markets. One example is Bosch’s recent decision to consider removing Dahua from its surveillance vendor list after the company was sanctioned by the United States for human rights abuses.

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