Internal Documents Show Huawei Is Staying On The Cutting Edge Of Oppression Tech

from the great-work-if-you-can-plausibly-deny-it dept

Pretty much exactly a year ago, the Washington Post obtained documents that showed Chinese tech giant Huawei was working with the government to create facial recognition on steroids: a system capable of not just recognizing faces, but also certain ethnicities.

There’s only one reason for developing ethnicity recognition in China. The government’s war on its Muslim Uighur population continues with no sign of letting up. Huawei’s tech would enable the government to identify and track its most undesirable citizens, most likely to find any reason at all to disappear them into the country’s many prisons and reeducation camps.

Huawei denied involvement in this project. It did not deny the documents seen by the Washington Post were legitimate, however. Instead, it claimed the documents referred to a test project that had not been deployed. According to its spokesperson, the company would never provide the powerful Chinese government with tools developed for the purpose of targeting Uighur citizens.

It was a pretty weak denial, considering Huawei’s disadvantaged position. If it wishes to maintain its healthy market share in China, it will have to comply with the government’s demands. That’s how it works in China and that’s how it’s worked for years. And, no matter where they’re located, companies don’t often spend money on test runs of products they don’t intend to sell or deploy in the future. Some testing may be done to see if something is feasible. But if the product works well enough to put on the market (or sell to governments), it will eventually result in real-world applications.

One year later and it’s the Washington Post again obtaining documents about Huawei’s relationship with the Chinese government. Huawei has suggested it’s not working directly with the government to create surveillance gear, claiming it’s nothing more than a provider of apolitical networking hardware and software.

But the documents seen by the Post strongly suggest otherwise.

A review by The Washington Post of more than 100 Huawei PowerPoint presentations, many marked “confidential,” suggests that the company has had a broader role in tracking China’s populace than it has acknowledged.

These marketing presentations, posted to a public-facing Huawei website before the company removed them late last year, show Huawei pitching how its technologies can help government authorities identify individuals by voice, monitor political individuals of interest, manage ideological reeducation and labor schedules for prisoners, and help retailers track shoppers using facial recognition.

Pretty disturbing stuff. Also, sadly, pretty normal stuff for the Chinese government, which has shoved thousands of people into hard labor/reeducation camps and subjected its more “free” residents to always-on monitoring of pretty much everything they do.

Huawei, of course, denies this. It told the Post that it “had no knowledge” of the documents referred to in the article. This is a strange statement to make considering the documents were posted on Huawei’s site and contain a Huawei watermark.

It also said this:

“Privacy protection is our top priority,” the company said.

Well, clearly it isn’t. It’s top priority is whatever sells. And it appears to have a lot of products in the pipeline that may prove lucrative if and when it decides these are ready to go live.

The Post reviewed more than 3,000 PowerPoint slides Huawei apparently inadvertently left exposed on its site. The presentations appear to be legitimate and created by the company. However, it’s unclear whether these pitches have been made to government agencies. But some of the presentations appear to have been specifically created with the Chinese government in mind.

The Post could not confirm whom the Chinese-language presentations were shown to, or when. Some of the slides showcase surveillance functions specific to police or government agencies, suggesting that Chinese government authorities may have been the intended audience. Many of the PowerPoints have a creation timestamp of Sept. 23, 2014, with the latest modifications to the files made in 2019 or 2020, according to the presentations’ metadata.

That echoing noise you hear is Huawei’s claiming ringing hollow. The government’s statements in support of Huawei don’t actually deny its interest in buying more surveillance gear that can be used to target Uighurs, government critics, and other undesirables. The statement from the government refers only to Huawei’s “no back door” agreement, which is really a shot at the US government’s blacklisting of Huawei products, rather than a clarification on the products and services discussed in the presentations.

One presentation describes voiceprint analysis developed by Huawei and iFlytek. The latter company has been sanctioned by the US Commerce Department for its human rights violations against the Uighur population. Supposedly, this tech would be used for “national security” purposes — a purpose heavily exploited by the Chinese government to do everything from imprison Uighur Muslims to imprison protesters fighting its premature takeover of Hong Kong.

Other documents posted by the Post are clearly government-oriented. There’s a “smart prison” platform for managing inmates and their reeducation. There’s a location tracking system for “political persons of interest.” And there’s a “Xinjiang surveillance system” that targets the region of the country where most Uighur residents are located.

Huawei’s denials are pretty weak in the face of this evidence. It would clearly like to sell surveillance tech to the Chinese government — tech that will enhance its oppression of minorities and political opponents. That’s not going to get it excused from any blacklists, though, so weak denials it is. The Chinese government has long since stopped caring what anyone thinks of it, so it’s likely hoping these new and exciting oppression enhancers will be on the market sooner, rather than later.

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Comments on “Internal Documents Show Huawei Is Staying On The Cutting Edge Of Oppression Tech”

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16 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

Do you mean, against the ones promoting terrorism, the ones hiding terrorists who organized attacks on US soil, the ones usurping elected governments, the ones attacking the other ones (the latter of which we were supporting), or some other ones?

And which of the "wars against Muslims" you site are active right now?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

See, this is exactly the reason why I think that the word "muslim" should stay out of the picture when discussing uighurs. It only generates confusion and adds nothing to the fact that uighurs are oppressed, if they would have been jews or Christians they would have been oppressed all the same.

BernardoVerda (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, your posts are indeed creating confusion.

Or at least trying to. But you appear to be the only one who’s actually confused by referring to the fact, that this particular religious and ethnic minority is being persecuted on the grounds of their religion and ethnicity.

Using your own attempts to instigate confusion as a meaningful reason for others to drop the topic, is a rather… interesting stance to take. I’m afraid you’ll have to pardon the rest of us for not agreeing, on the grounds that we find your own purported reasoning to be (to put it politely) somewhat… confusing.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"I think that while talking about uighurs in china, the fact that they are Muslims should be omitted."

For plenty of reasons. Primarily China didn’t use to have an issue with Islam with plenty of famous generals and statesmen being muslims over the centuries.

This has begun to change, mainly because the Xinjiang suppression uses the official excuse that the Uighur liberation movement is an old affiliate of ISI and formerly of Daesch/ISIS (which is actually true), and therefore they are operating under the same rules of engagement as the US in their battle against "terrorists".

The actual reason is that the PRC couldn’t care less about the religious affiliation of the Uighur. What they care about is that Uighur culture intensely references and seeks to protect the origin of the tribe as turkish rather than Chinese. For which they have plenty of historical precedent to show that every time the Uighurs start talking about being turks the result is an attempted secession.

No, the PRC will only suppress a religion which grows influential enough to bear a message undermining the state – but they’ll react with disproportional aggression to any suggestion of a people within their borders claiming not to be chinese.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

One does wonder if they would have moved so heavily into oppression tech had some big player not accused them of slipping backdoors in everything to over throw the free world based on a fortune they once got in a cookie.

Its a terrible look for the company but they lost a lot of market share and China isn’t looking for faster routers, they want oppression tech.

This is how China has operated for a very very long time, and while many people would like to say I’d close down if my only option was oppression tech, but they wouldn’t.

In a nation where there are still people supporting the asshat who tried to overthrow the government & keep repeating the lies, perhaps we no longer have the higher ground to tut at other countries.

We incarcerate many more people based on laws that have tougher penalties if your skin tone doesn’t match the ‘majority’.
We have prison produced merch, paying those workers a tiny fraction of what they have to pay free people.
We have phone banks bookings & vacations run by… prisoners.
We deploy tech to monitor them, their associates, their families, their lawyers.
We might not have all the same camera setups but huh isn’t that a plane with a dirt box gathering data over a peaceful protest?
Didn’t the government try to terrorize a whole bunch of people who even THOUGHT they might attend a protest on inauguration day?
Then they put some people they arrested at the protest on trial for things that others had done & then the lawyer said reasonable doubt wasn’t really a thing?
Don’t we have secret government files on the antifa and BLM people?
Don’t we force 1st Nation people to stay on the shittiest land we didn’t take back from agreements we violated & we refuse to let them govern themselves while making it difficult for them to have any rights or get the money & assistance we promised them?
I mean we did allow towns that are nothing but a 1 stop booze shop to setup just outside the rez in several places so I guess we do care some.

I look at it like the advertising where we can just spend 19 cents a day and keep a child in Africa alive by sponsoring them… and people do it… while we have children here living in dire circumstances to that no ones willing to spend even 19 cents a day on.

‘Merica used to be something other countries aspired to be like & we were truth justice the ‘merican way…
Now we pretty much just tell stories about how it used to be & refuse to look at how we’ve become those we used to call out.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: The good old days. . .

"That was back when ‘Merica was better at covering up or ignoring all the things like those you listed in the preceding paragraphs."

Partially. But not all of it. Back in the ’60’s…that part of the US golden era the MAGA hats all want to return to, the US was, albeit flawed, still a damn sight better than it is now.

Ironically that prosperity and public conscience was all based on FDR’s thoroughly socialist platform which held up well until Reagan came along and gutted everything the US still had to be proud of while hollering about some imaginary welfare queen and trickle-down economics. It’s gone downhill since.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Let's resolve to call them what they are:

Let’s not, until there’s some evidence that does not come from NED-funded propagandists. Research on the ground doesn’t seem to support the ‘Mighty Worlitzer’: https://www.moonofalabama.org/2021/01/the-number-of-uyghurs-has-trippled-the-us-calls-it-a-genocide-propaganda-fails-to-explain-it.html

Or here:
https://www.moonofalabama.org/2020/12/uighurs-forced-to-eat-pork-horror-stories-told-by-chinese-defector-seem-to-evolve.html?cid=6a00d8341c640e53ef026be42a0f8b200d#comment-6a00d8341c640e53ef026be42a0f8b200d

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Let's resolve to call them what they are:

The fact that Sayragul Sautbay’s story has changed both in particulars and in general over the years is concerning.

I mean, the ethnic cleansing performed by the PRC is a given – that’s just China being China.
The internment camps do exist.
Forced labor is likely as we know Uighurs have been shipped around én másse to factories.
..and with Abu Ghraib in fresh memory there is no doubt that even if the official policy of the PRC isn’t torture and rape it’s almost guaranteed that some or all of the camps host this, because posts holding power over other people attracts the most horrible of monsters.

But the testimony of Sayragul Sautbay itself is dubious given how much she’s consistently altered it.

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