An investigation into the Chinese firm Huawei has reportedly found that the company has worked with dozens of security firms to build surveillance tools that can both identify and track people based on race. The report comes just days after the company had denied creating ethnicity-monitoring technology.
The investigation, conducted by The Washington Post, learned that documents publicly available on Huawei’s website listed around 2,000 product collaborations that specifically laid out the capabilities such tools would have in monitoring people of a specific ethnicity. In China, there are fears that it could be used against the Muslim Uighur minority in the northwestern part of the country after previous investigations supposedly found that Huawei had helped create a “Uighur alarm” that could be used by police.
The ethnic group has reportedly often been targeted by Chinese authorities, and international watchdog groups have claimed that there are hundreds of detainment camps where Uighurs are tortured, used as slave labor, or forced to participate in reeducation programs.
“This is not one isolated company. This is systematic,” warned John Honovich, the founder of IPVM, a video-surveillance research group that first noticed the Uighur-specific facial identification alarm.
Meanwhile, Huawei has hit back at claims of unethical activity or racism.
“Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination,” a Huawei spokesperson said, per Business Insider. “We provide general-purpose ICT [information and communication technology] products based on recognized industry standards.”
“We do not develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnic group, and we do not condone the use of our technologies to discriminate against or oppress members of any community,” the spokesperson added. “We take the allegations in the Washington Post‘s article very seriously and are investigating the issues raised within.”
The development in facial recognition that is accurate enough to evaluate ethnicity is also concerning among those who fear the rise of surveillance states. Though AI has gained some traction in countries such as the United States, activists have also been responsible for slowing its spread, and lawmakers even introduced a bill this past summer that would make the use of facial identification systems by law enforcement illegal, per Technology Review.
Meanwhile, the new allegations are just another piece of bad publicity for Huawei. The Chinese firm is already battling accusations that it passes data onto the Communist government, especially as it partners with European nations to develop a 5G network, per The Inquisitr.