Uighurs could be hunted down remotely by Huawei
Patent spotted by US video surveillance specialists must be amended to no longer allow identification of ethnic origin
Huawei would have filed in July 2018 a patent application for a digital tool to identify Uighurs among passers-by, as revealed by the Washington Post last December. After the publication of this article, the company had however denied it. A spokesperson for the Chinese giant quoted by the BBC was forced to reverse these statements, indicating that "active measures had been taken to modify" the patent.
The latter was filed in collaboration with the Chinese government but was spotted by IPVM, an American specialist in information relating to video surveillance. The tool in question uses artificial intelligence and deep learning to identify specific physical characteristics in pedestrians. In the list of these is the ethnicity of the people filmed.
Criticized, Huawei defends itself
The official document thus specifies that the tool can for example identify a person of the Han ethnic group, the most common in China, or Uighur. “Identifying the ethnicity of individuals has never been the goal of this research and development project,” said Huawei. It should never have been part of the tool ”.
Human rights defenders have long been critical of China's video surveillance policy. "One of the technical requests of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security is that the network of cameras can detect ethnic origins, and particularly Uighurs," said Maya Wang, member of Human Rights Watch.
Chinese police * requires * video surveillance system to detect ethnicity. These systems are designed to abuse rights, including those of Uyghurs. The only right thing to do? Stop selling + maintaining these systems for Chinese police. https://t.co/JzJVBHPv4L- Maya Wang 王松莲 (@wang_maya) January 13, 2021
"The persecution and intense discrimination of Uighurs in many areas in China are not contested because Uighurs have no power in China," she regrets. IPVM reports that other Chinese digital companies, including Megvii, have also registered technologies to automatically detect members of ethnic minority groups.