Biometric mass surveillance pitched in alleged Huawei company materials
Huawei’s involvement in tracking Chinese citizens has come under renewed scrutiny regarding the use of biometric identification systems. The Washington Post reviewed thousands of PowerPoint marketing presentations, concluding that there is a divergence between Huawei’s official stance and its private position on the use of facial and voice recognition by Chinese authorities.
The information about Huawei came from slides that were apparently inadvertently made available on a public facing website in 2020 before being removed. In an article published on December 14, The Washington Post said it had reviewed more than 3,000 PowerPoint slides from presentations outlining surveillance projects co-developed by Huawei with partner vendors.
Some of the slides, burnished with Huawei’s logo and copyright, showcased technology with surveillance functions. The offerings, several of which were co-developed with partner companies, included biometric voice recording analysis, detention center monitoring, location tracking of political individuals of interest, police surveillance of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region, and corporate tracking of employees and customers.
The presentations’ content suggested that police or government agencies in China were being wooed as customers, according to The Post.
Company representatives supplied a statement to The Post, saying that “Huawei has no knowledge of the projects mentioned in the Washington Post report. Like all other major service providers, Huawei provides cloud platform services that comply with common industry standards.”
Huawei has long been dogged by criticism that it is closer to the Chinese government than it claims. The Washington Post reported in December 2020 about the company’s partnerships on biometric-based ethnicity tracking systems, including a “Uyghur alarm” the company tested that could send an alert to police when it identified a member of the ethnic minority native to the region.
The Uyghurs are a persecuted Muslim ethnic minority in China, of whom more than 1 million have been detained by Chinese authorities. One of the presentations covers a detention center monitoring system that includes software for tracking detainees’ attendance in “ideological reeducation classes” as well as video cameras and smart gates, according to the report.
Other reports about Huawei and its partners’ efforts to patent technology for ethnicity tracking have been previously detailed in various publications. Huawei’s and its partners have already been under sanction by the U.S. Commerce Department. Some of the partners included on the list are SenseTime, Megvii, and iFlytek.
The new details on Huawei’s surveillance products come amid growing concerns around the world about the consequences of biometric tracking. In Europe, the EU is developing the Artificial Intelligence Act as part of an effort to regulate the use of AI in a variety of use cases such as police surveillance. The document has been subject to revisions, but debate continues about whether to outright ban biometric mass surveillance rather than try to proscribe its lawful use.