Huawei patent mentions use of Uighur-spotting tech

Not that surprising…

A Huawei patent has been brought to light for a system that identifies people who appear to be of Uighur origin among images of pedestrians.

The filing is one of several of its kind involving leading Chinese technology companies, discovered by a US research company and shared with BBC News.

Huawei had previously said none of its technologies was designed to identify ethnic groups.

It now plans to alter the patent.

Forced-labour camps

The company indicated this would involve asking the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) – the country’s patent authority – for permission to delete the reference to Uighurs in the Chinese-language document.

Uighur people belong to a mostly Muslim ethnic group that lives mainly in Xinjiang province, in north-western China.

Government authorities are accused of using high-tech surveillance against them and detaining many in forced-labour camps, where children are sometimes separated from their parents.

Beijing says the camps offer voluntary education and training.

“One technical requirement of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s video-surveillance networks is the detection of ethnicity – particularly of Uighurs,” said Maya Wang, from Human Rights Watch.

“While in the rest of the world, such targeting and persecution of a people on the basis of their ethnicity would be completely unacceptable, the persecution and severe discrimination of Uighurs in many aspects of life in China remain unchallenged because Uighurs have no power in China.”

Body movements

Huawei’s patent was originally filed in July 2018, in conjunction with the Chinese Academy of Sciences .

It describes ways to use deep-learning artificial-intelligence techniques to identify various features of pedestrians photographed or filmed in the street.

It focuses on addressing the fact different body postures – for example whether someone is sitting or standing – can affect accuracy.

But the document also lists attributes by which a person might be targeted, which it says can include “race (Han [China’s biggest ethnic group], Uighur)”.

A spokesman said this reference should not have been included.

“Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination,” he said.

“Identifying individuals’ race was never part of the research-and-development project.

“It should never have become part of the application.

“And we are taking proactive steps to amend it.

“We are continuously working to ensure new and evolving technology is developed and applied with the utmost care and integrity.”

‘Confidential’ document

The patent was brought to light by the video-surveillance research group IPVM.

It had previously flagged a separate “confidential” document on Huawei’s website, referencing work on a “Uighur alert” system.

In that case, Huawei said the page referenced a test rather than a real-world application and denied selling systems that identified people by their ethnicity.

On Wednesday, Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee and leads the Conservative Party’s China Research Group, told BBC News: “Chinese tech giants supporting the brutal assault on the Uighur population show us why we as consumers and as a society must be careful with who we buy our products from or award business to.

“Developing ethnic-labelling technology for use by a repressive regime is clearly not behaviour that lives up to our standards.”

Facial-recognition software

IPVM also discovered references to Uighur people in patents filed by the Chinese artificial-intelligence company Sensetime and image-recognition specialist Megvii.

Sensetime’s filing, from July 2019, discusses ways facial-recognition software could be used for more efficient “security protection”, such as searching for “a middle-aged Uighur with sunglasses and a beard” or a Uighur person wearing a mask.

A Sensetime spokeswoman said the references were “regrettable”.

“We understand the importance of our responsibilities, which is why we began to develop our AI Code of Ethics in mid-2019,” she said, adding the patent had predated this code.

Ethnic-labelling solutions

Megvii’s June 2019 patent, meanwhile, described a way of relabelling pictures of faces tagged incorrectly in a database.

It said the classifications could be based on ethnicity, for example, including “Han, Uighur, non-Han, non-Uighur and unknown”.

The company told BBC News it would now withdraw the patent application.

“Megvii recognises that the language used in our 2019 patent application is open to misunderstanding,” it said.

“Megvii has not developed and will not develop or sell racial- or ethnic-labelling solutions.

“Megvii acknowledges that, in the past, we have focused on our commercial development and lacked appropriate control of our marketing, sales, and operations materials.

“We are undertaking measures to correct the situation.”

Attribute-recognition model

IPVM also flagged image-recognition patents filed by two of China’s biggest technology conglomerates, Alibaba and Baidu, that referenced classifying people by ethnicity but did not specifically mention the Uighur people by name.

Alibaba responded: “Racial or ethnic discrimination or profiling in any form violates our policies and values.

“We never intended our technology to be used for and will not permit it to be used for targeting specific ethnic groups.”

And Baidu said: “When filing for a patent, the document notes are meant as an example of a technical explanation, in this case describing what the attribute-recognition model is rather than representing the expected implementation of the invention.

“We do not and will not permit our technology to be used to identify or target specific ethnic groups.”

But Human Rights Watch said it still had concerns.

“Any company that sells video-surveillance software and systems to the Chinese police would have to ensure that they meet the police’s requirements, which includes the capacity for ethnicity detection,” Ms Wang said.

“The right thing for these companies to do is to immediately cease their sale and maintenance of surveillance equipment, software and systems, to the Chinese police.”

Source: Huawei patent mentions use of Uighur-spotting tech

Tech firm blacklisted in U.S. over facial-recognition allegations invited to Vancouver conference

Yet another story on the obliviousness, wilful blindness and complicity of institutions and individuals with respect to serious human and minority rights violations in China:

A Vancouver conference promoting business links between Canada and China is under fire for inviting a company that’s blacklisted in the United States for its work monitoring the Uighur ethnic group in China.

Jimmy Zhou, executive director of SenseTime, is one of the Chinese corporate leaders invited to speak at the China Forum to be held Nov. 16 and 17 and sponsored by BizChina Club from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

SenseTime is an artificial intelligence startup based in Hong Kong that has worked with Chinese tech giant Huawei to launch a facial recognition program, according to the latter’s website.

In early October, the U.S. Department of Commerce blacklisted SenseTime with other Chinese tech companies for alleged human rights violations against Uighurs in Xinjiang province. Facial recognition technologies from these firms have reportedly been used by the Chinese government to monitor the Muslim minority in the northwestern Chinese province.

Shalina Nurly, youth leader for the Vancouver Uighur Association, said the event at the Vancouver Convention Centre is a disappointment, and the group is considering mounting a protest.

“We have been let down by the UBC community,” said Nurly in an email to CBC News.

“At a time where the world is re-experiencing the Nazi concentration camps [in Xinjiang], we as Canadians should be joining the U.S. as it takes a stand against Communist China for the basic fundamental rights of the Uighur and other Muslim minority groups.”

Promoted as ‘great opportunity’

The event has been promoted by UBC president Santa Ono and George Chow, B.C. minister of state for trade, who describes the two-day conference in a promotional video as “a great opportunity to bridge Canadian and Chinese business and culture.”

The conference has also received support from the Chinese consulate in Vancouver, according to a message on the Chinese instant messaging platform WeChat.

Nurly, a 19-year-old student at Simon Fraser University, also expressed concern about Lina Chen, the chief editor of Sina Weibo, appearing at the conference.

As China’s major social media platform, Sina Weibo has censored topics that Beijing deems politically sensitive, including the animated TV series South Park and the June 4 anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

“What is peculiar about Lina Chen is that she is the deputy secretary of the Chinese Communist Party for her company. How that works is in China, every private company has such a committee in place for the party to get control of the private sector,” said Nurly.

According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, 68 per cent of China’s private companies had an internal communist presence by the end of 2016, and that continues to grow.

Business with China carries ‘high risks’

Mabel Tung, the president of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, which organizes the Tiananmen anniversary vigils and rallies in support of Hong Kong protesters, said Canadians should be vigilant about Chinese business ties.

“The recent case of Canada’s two Michaels [Kovrig and Spavor], arbitrarily detained in China since December 2018 without formal charges … serves as a blunt reminder to us Canadians that doing business with communist China carries very high risks that are entirely unpredictable.”

BizChina Club’s president, Michelle Lau, said she was “surprised to hear” about the concerns from local Uighurs, but added that her association “will certainly take these concerns into consideration moving forward.”

A UBC spokesperson said the university is “proud of the initiative and work of all students who are engaging on global issues and ideas.”

Both SenseTime and Sina Weibo have not responded to interview requests.

Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ubc-invites-blacklisted-company-1.5355536