US sanctions a Chinese facial recognition company with Silicon Valley funding

FACIAL RECOGNITION: The US Department of Commerce has sanctioned 14 Chinese technology companies for their ties to human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, including one backed by a major Silicon Valley investment firm.

DeepGlint, formerly Beijing Geling Shentong Information Technology Co., Ltd., is a facial recognition firm with ties to Chinese police surveillance and funding from Sequoia Capital in the United States. It was added to the Commerce Department’s Entity List today, which prevents US companies from doing business with listed companies unless they have a special license. Sequoia did not respond to a request for comment right away.

According to the South China Morning Post, DeepGlint and Chinese authorities co-founded a facial recognition lab in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in 2018. The Face Recognition Vendor Test of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has also given it international bragging rights. As of January 2021, DeepGlint claimed top accuracy in the test, making it a powerful marketing tool in the security and surveillance industry.

While DeepGlint has been approved for a public offering on Shanghai’s STAR stock exchange, the company hasn’t had the same commercial success as other AI startups in the country, according to Jeffrey Ding’s ChinAI newsletter. Because the company is so heavily invested in government work, Ding writes, it must adhere to slow government procurement cycles and is unlikely to win large infrastructure projects.

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Sequoia Capital previously invested in a company that was later placed on the Entity List. Yitu Technology, backed by Sequoia Capital, was added to the list in 2020 for similar human rights violations. Sequoia invested in DeepGlint in 2014, before news of China’s Uyghur genocide broke. (According to KrAsia, Bill Gates called the startup “very cool” in the same year.)

Xinjiang Lianhai Chuangzhi Company and Chengdu Xiwu Security System Alliance, both subsidiaries of Chinese military contractors, were also sanctioned by the Commerce Department. According to their websites and academic reports, they both provide surveillance equipment and services. According to a report from the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, the Xinjiang Lianhai Chuangzhi Company developed an AI-powered checkpoint system that can track Uyghurs as they move around cities.

Leon Technology, a surveillance firm controlled by Chinese AI behemoth SenseTime until its role in providing oppressive technology in Xinjiang was revealed in 2019, is another company sanctioned today. After that, SenseTime sold its 51 percent stake in the company.

For national security reasons, the Commerce Department also sanctioned nine other Chinese companies, as well as companies from Iran, Russia, and Canada, among others.

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