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Chinese biometric surveillance developers Nuctech, Hikvision under scrutiny again

Chinese biometric surveillance developers Nuctech, Hikvision under scrutiny again
 

Chinese surveillance equipment maker Nuctech, which has been blacklisted in the U.S. and restricted in the European Union, is attracting attention after supplying biometrics products to Serbian border control.

In October, the Serbian Interior Ministry announced a donation of mobile scanners from China to help handle the increased influx of migrants passing through Serbia along the so-called Balkan Route. The company behind the scanners was identified as Nuctech, a partially state-owned company known for manufacturing X-ray machines, explosive-detection systems and scanners, including biometric ones. The former chairman of Nuctech is Hu Haifeng, the son of former Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Serbia is one of China’s largest European trade partners and has been purchasing Nuctech equipment since 2009, Radio Free Europe reports. In recent years, Chinese loans to the country have become increasingly controversial. Serbia’s government still owes Nuctech US$9.1 million for the border control equipment, according to VOA.

Geopolitical troubles have also been mounting for Nuctech. The company was among approximately 60 mainland companies that were placed by the US government on a trade blacklist in 2020. Its troubles soon spilled over to the EU with more than 50 European Parliament members signing a letter in 2022 asking the European Commission to exclude Nuctech from the EU’s Customs Control Equipment Instrument (CCEI) tenders.

A major concern for lawmakers has been the potential to pass on sensitive data to the Chinese government. At the time, Nuctech rejected allegations, saying that “all data generated by our devices belongs to Nuctech customers” and not to the company, EU countries, or the Chinese government.

Despite EU-level opposition, Nuctech supplied the airport in Strasbourg last year and made two contracts this year in Italy and Poland. The firm, however, has been raising alarm among some governments. In 2021, Lithuania decided to cancel a contract for baggage scanners for national security reasons. A similar decision was made this year by the Belgian government which scrapped plans to buy X-ray scanners from the company.

Hikvision wins tender including surveilling Muslims on campus

Chinese surveillance giant Hikvision has won a tender to supply a Chinese university with a system that sends alerts when ethnic minority students are suspected of fasting for Ramadan.

The company won the contract to complete the first phase of the $9 million “Smart Campus” project for Minjiang University in Fuzhou city in mid-2022, U.S.-based research group IPVM reports. The university hosts around 16,000 students.

According to the tender specifications, the biometric system includes surveilling members of ethnic minorities through a system called “Assisted Analysis Of Ethnic Minority Students.” This includes automatically sending an alert when a student is suspected of fasting during “the fasting month,” i.e. the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, based on “dining records.” The project also tracks other behaviors of minority students, including which books they are borrowing from the library, their holiday holiday destinations, passport usage, family member information, and more.

China has been accused by the U.S. of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim minority group. More than one million Uyghurs have reportedly been sent to so-called “re-education camps” over the past years.

Hikvision is one of China’s surveillance companies that has been accused of aiding the Chinese government in persecuting Muslims. The company claims that any capability for monitoring Uyghurs in its software was stripped in 2018. After IPVM published its report, Hikvision reiterated in a statement on LinkedIn that it does not offer ethnic minority recognition or analysis technology.

Hikvision was added to the U.S. Commerce Department trade blacklist over the treatment of Muslim ethnic minorities in 2019.

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