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Surprises in China’s ongoing biometric surveillance of its Uyghurs

Surprises in China’s ongoing biometric surveillance of its Uyghurs

Chinese surveillance system maker Dahua is responding to an industry trade publication that allegedly found evidence Dahua systems are at least marketed as products that can identify race, skin color and specific facial attributes.

IPVM’s latest in a long series of articles tracking how China’s authoritarian government is using biometric surveillance reportedly finds its products are sold as being able to find the facial attributes of people from the Xinjiang and Tibet regions.

The video analytic specifications for four Dahua cameras, according to IPVM, and marketing material on Dahua’s site are clear: The models are designed to detect skin color, race and the face attributes of people from the nation’s northwest.

Xinjiang Province is the home of most of the world’s Uyghurs, a Muslim and political minority in China that the government has gone to extreme measures to eradicate as a culture. Beijing is widely accused of mistreating and removing Uyghurs to heavily biometrically surveilled re-education camps in the mountains in Xinjiang. Those accusations have been an ongoing point of friction between China and major Western economies.

Never very tolerant of Uyghurs, Beijing took the opportunity to aggressively increase its actions against them after 9/11 made Muslims around the world a more acceptable target for abuse. China’s leadership maintains that Uyghurs are a source of terrorism within its borders.

For the first time in this chapter of China’s marriage of politics and technology, Dahua did not, as it has in the past, deny its software has anything to do with rounding up undesirables. IPVM says the company has “admitted the authenticity” of the marketing language.

The company has reported that Dahua said it is “deeply troubled and concerned” about the situation. “We appreciate IPVM for point out this error” in documentation, it says. It has, however continued to defend itself against allegations that its products are at the core of a policy of mass repression.

Several Western nations, including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have taken steps to pressure China and its domestic biometric surveillance industry to not persecute Uyghurs.

A 2021 joint investigation done by IPVM, and The Los Angeles Times alleged that Dahua documents for Chinese police surveillance systems boasted “real-time Uyghur warnings.”

Dahua is far from alone in this clash. Hikvision, another Chinese maker of video and biometric surveillance systems has been sanctioned by the United States. Same with SenseTime.

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