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Thursday, November 28, 2019

U.S. Tech Companies Prop Up China's Vast Surveillance Network

Critical pieces of China’s cutting-edge surveillance state share a connection. They came from America.

Some of the biggest names in U.S. technology have provided components, financing and know-how to China’s multibillion-dollar surveillance industry. The country’s authoritarian government uses those tools to track ethnic minorities, political dissidents and others it sees as a threat to its power—including in Xinjiang, where authorities are creating an all-seeing digital monitoring system that feeds into a network of detention camps for the area’s Muslims.

U.S. companies, including Seagate Technology PLC, Western Digital Corp., Intel Corp. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., have nurtured, courted and profited from China’s surveillance industry. Several have been involved since the industry’s infancy.
The U.S. connections came under scrutiny in October, when the Trump administration added eight Chinese surveillance companies to an export blacklist, as part of a wider push to keep American technology out of China’s hands. The Chinese companies played a role in human-rights abuses in “China’s campaign of repression” in Xinjiang, the Commerce Department said.
The Communist Party’s data-driven crackdown in Xinjiang, aimed at suppressing Muslim identity in the region, has been condemned by Western governments and United Nations experts. In an era of increased scrutiny of corporate behavior, the U.S. companies could face reputational damage if they are seen as enabling a human-rights crisis described by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as “the stain of the century.” The companies also risk losing significant business if the Trump administration decides to take stronger steps to sanction China’s surveillance industry.
For their part, the companies say that their products can be used in any number of ways, and that convoluted supply chains limit their understanding and control over how their goods are put to use.
Participation in China’s surveillance market offers companies and investors an opportunity to grab a piece of a booming new field and improve their products. China’s video surveillance market reached $10.6 billion in 2018, with the government accounting for about half of those purchases, according to industry analyst IDC.
Of 37 Chinese firms singled out last November by the Beijing-backed China Security and Protection Industry Association for outstanding contributions to the country’s surveillance industry, 17 have publicly disclosed financing, commercial or supply-chain relationships with U.S. technology companies. Several had multiple connections.

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