Eight Chinese tech firms, including SenseTime and Megvii, have been added to the U.S. government Entity List for their role in enabling human rights violations against Muslim minority groups in China, including the Uighurs. The firms were among 28 total organizations, mostly Chinese government agencies, that were implicated “in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minority groups” in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, according to an announcement by the U.S. Commerce Department.
According to the United Nations, up to one in 12 Muslim residents of Xinjiang region, or about a million people, are being held in detention camps, where they are subjected to forced labor and torture.
Being placed on the Entity List means these organizations must apply for additional licenses in order to purchase products from U.S. suppliers. But approval is difficult to obtain, which essentially means they are blocked from doing business with American companies. After Huawei was placed on the Entity List earlier this year, founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said he expected the company to lose $30 billion in revenue, among other financial repercussions.
The government organizations placed on the Entity List today include the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region People’s Government Public Security Bureau and several associated government agencies; tech companies video surveillance manufacturers Dahua Technology and Hikvision; AI tech firms Yitu, Megvii, SenseTime and iFlyTek; digital forensics company Meiya Pico; and Yixin Technology Company.
SenseTime, the world’s most highly valued AI startup, has supplied software to the Chinese government for its national surveillance system, including CCTV cameras and smart glasses worn by police officers.
Both Megvii, the maker of Face++, and Yitu Technology focus on facial recognition technology and have worked with the Chinese government on software used in mass surveillance systems. According to The New York Times, Hikvision made a recognition system designed to identify ethnic minorities, but began phasing it out last year.
In a 2017 report, the Human Rights Watch said voice recognition company iFlyTek supplied voiceprint technology to police bureaus in Xinjiang Province, which was used to build biometric databases for mass surveillance.
The impact of the blacklisting will depend on how deeply entrenched each company is with U.S. business partners, but many Chinese firms have begun reducing their reliance on American technology in light of the trade war. For example, Meiya Pico told the Chinese Securities Journal, a state-run publication, that overseas sales revenue makes up less than 1% of the company’s total revenue and most of its suppliers are domestic companies.
TechCrunch has contacted the eight companies for comment. In a statement, a Hikvision spokesperson said “Hikvision strongly opposes today’s decision by the U.S. Government and it will hamper efforts by global companies to improve human rights around the world. Hikvision, as the security industry’s global leader, respects human rights and takes our responsibility to protect people in the U.S. and the world seriously. Hikvision has been engaging with Administration officials over the past 12 months to clarify misunderstandings about the company and address their concerns.”