A patent filed by Chinese mobile phone brand Huawei has raised controversy over a feature that allegedly singles out people of Uyghur origin.
Huawei filed the patent in conjunction with the Chinese Academy of Sciences back in July 2018. While Huawei had earlier denied that its technology could identify ethnic groups, it has indicated plans of changing the patent.
Altering this document would require the company to seek permission from the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) to remove any references to Uyghurs in the filing.
The document includes descriptions of using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify various features of pedestrians from captured images. In the listed attributes by which a person might be targeted, the filing mentions it can include “race (Han [China’s biggest ethnic group], Uyghur).”
“Huawei opposes discrimination of all types, including the use of technology to carry out ethnic discrimination,” a company representative claimed. “Identifying individuals’ race was never part of the research-and-development project.”
The spokesperson said the reference should not have been included in the filing, noting that the company is now “taking proactive steps” to change it.
The Chinese government has been accused of using surveillance technologies against the ethnic group originating from Xinjiang province.
Maya Wang, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “One technical requirement of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s video-surveillance networks is the detection of ethnicity – particularly of Uyghurs. 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 Uyghurs in many aspects of life in China remain unchallenged because Uyghurs have no power in China.”