National Security

China’s Huawei Tests Facial-Recognition Software to Identify Uighurs to Authorities

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has tested surveillance and facial-recognition software that would alert Chinese authorities when it identifies Uighur Muslims.

The company worked with Chinese tech startup Megvii in 2018 to test surveillance equipment capable of identifying Chinese citizens from a crowd by their sex, age, and ethnicity, according to a document signed by Huawei officials and obtained by the Washington Post. When the software identifies Uighur Muslims, according to the document, it could send alerts or flag the citizens for investigation by Chinese authorities. 

The document was scrubbed from Huawei’s website soon after the Post asked for comment.

The surveillance technology is just one element of a larger crackdown on the religious and political freedoms of Uighurs in China. Millions of Uighurs are held in work camps in western China, where they are often subjected to population control, brutal work conditions, and forced renunciation of their faith. Senate Republicans have called on Washington to designate China’s treatment of Uighurs as a genocide.

Chinese surveillance systems remain a major concern for policymakers, especially those made by Huawei. China is also developing a new social credit system using surveillance technology that would limit political and economic opportunity for certain citizens.

While the State Department has taken a hard line against Chinese technology through efforts such as the Clean Network and has lobbied Europe to limit Huawei’s 5G plans there, American investors have had less success in divorcing themselves from Chinese capital. By some estimates over $1 trillion in U.S. funds are currently invested in China, including in Chinese tech firms that cooperate with the Chinese government in suppressing human freedoms.