Chinese Government Sponsors Facial Recognition Technology to Detect Uyghurs

Chinese Government Sponsors Facial Recognition Technology to Detect Uyghurs
A screen shows visitors being filmed by artificial intelligence security cameras with facial recognition technology at the 14th China International Exhibition on Public Safety and Security at the China International Exhibition Centre in Beijing on Oct. 24, 2018. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chinese Patent Office (CPO) published patent applications of newly developed technologies to detect Uyghurs. The research and the patent applications are sponsored by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).

The CPO published a patent application (with application number CN201711408669, filed with the CPO on Dec. 22, 2017) titled “A kind of new HOG features Uyghur nationality facial image recognizer” (HOG is the abbreviation for a technical term, histogram of oriented gradients).

The patent application disclosed that “facial recognition … has wide applications in the field of social security,” “Uyghurs have different facial appearance from Han Chinese,” and “An Uyghurs face database has been built upon typical face images of Uyghurs of different sexes and ages collected from all areas of Xinjiang Autonomous Region,” in the published specification of the application. The application described a newly developed method to more accurately distinguish Uyghurs from Han Chinese based on facial images.

CPO also published another patent application (with application number CN201810588774, filed with the CPO on June 6, 2018) titled “A kind of Uyghur nationality’s face identification method of new blending algorithm.” This patent application acknowledged Uyghurs like to wear veils, hats, and glasses, which results in difficulty of facial recognition, and proposed an improved method to more accurately distinguish Uyghurs from Han Chinese even when their faces are partially covered.

The applicant of these patent applications is University of Xinjiang, the top university of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, where most Uyghurs in China reside. According to a document on the university’s website, the research work resulting in these patent applications was sponsored by the NSFC with project approval number 61462082.

The above two disclosures are just some examples of technologies with similar detection purposes. On Jan. 12, 2021, IPVM (an organization specializing in video surveillance) also reported that Huawei, Megvii, and several other Chinese tech companies have filed patents in China for various devices and systems that include Uyghur and ethnic minority detection.

On Jan. 19, 2021, U.S. State Department officially determined that the Chinese government is committing genocide against Uyghurs and other minority groups in Xinjiang, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying there is a “systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”