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Huawei’s patent mentions use of Uighur-detecting surveillance

Proposed technology can detect people's ethnicity from a distance, and raises several human rights concerns.
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China’s tech giant Huawei has a patent that describes ethnic identification via surveillance powered by facial recognition, US researchers IPVM are saying.

The system, described in one of the filings for a patent submitted to the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) concerns technology that can identify and track members of the Uighur minority, many of which are in re-education camps in China.

Now that the contents of the patent have been made public, the company said it would change it – apparently by changing the wording to drop the mention of Uighurs.

Beside the overall problem of high tech mass surveillance, the issue is particularly sensitive as it concerns a minority that governments and human rights groups outside of China say is being severely discriminated against.

This predominantly Muslim population in China’s Xinjiang province is under intense surveillance and even “reeducated” in labor camps.

One of them is Human Rights Watch, who say that China’s ministry in charge of approving video surveillance networks requires this technology to be able to identify people by their ethnicity, Uighurs above all.

It would appear that Huawei might have been complying with this requirement when it filed the patent in 2018, detailing the use of AI to identify people in public places, whose images are caught on video or in photographs, and where the mention of Uighurs (along with Hans, the ethnicity of most Chinese citizens) is made.

Asked to comment on this discovery, Huawei said it was opposed to any kind of discrimination and that the patented R&D project’s goal was not racial identification.

A spokesperson also said that the reference to Uighurs should not have been made and that the company will “amend” that situation.

Previously, IPVM reported about a document published on Huawei’s website that spoke about the development of a “Uighur alert system.”

Once again, Huawei denied that it was actually producing and selling such systems, describing the website reference as concerning “a test.”

But Huawei is not alone in apparently working on high tech that will help identify members of the minority, since the same US research group says other companies like Sensetime and Megvii referenced Uighurs in their facial recognition software patents.

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