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22 Dec 2020

Eva Dou and Drew Harwell, Washington Post (USA)

China: Huawei built multiple products touted as capable of identifying ethnicity, documents show

"Huawei worked on several surveillance systems promoted to identify ethnicity, documents show", 12 December 2020

Huawei has worked with dozens of security contractors to develop surveillance products, some of which were touted as being able to identify a person’s ethnicity or to help suppress potential protests, according to company marketing documents that shed light on a little-publicized corner of one of China’s most valuable tech empires.

The revelation this week of Huawei’s role in testing artificial-intelligence surveillance technology — including a face-scanning camera system that could send a “Uighur alarm” to police if it detected a member of the minority group — has sparked an international backlash against the tech giant, including from a French soccer star who publicly ended his work as a Huawei brand ambassador and urged the company to “condemn this mass repression.”

Huawei representatives said the document outlining the “Uighur alarm” system, discovered on the company’s website by the research organization IPVM and first reported by The Washington Post, used language that is “completely unacceptable.” “It is not compatible with the values of Huawei,” a representative told the BBC. “Our technologies are not designed to identify ethnic groups.”


“We take the allegations in the Washington Post’s article very seriously and are investigating the issues raised within,” a Huawei spokesperson said in a statement to The Post.

The statement continues: “We provide general-purpose ICT [information and communications 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 Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. A ministry spokesperson told CNBC earlier this week that “legal use of facial recognition in public areas in some parts of China is to improve social management” and prevent criminal acts. The spokesperson called the reports on the “Uighur alarm” by IPVM and The Post “purely slander.”

“The measures are not targeting any particular ethnic groups,” the ministry official added, saying they can “strengthen social security, thus [earning] support from people of all ethnic groups.”

Attempts to reach China’s Public Security Ministry for comment by phone and fax Saturday were unsuccessful. [...]