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Hikvision and Nvidia named in contract for Uyghur detection

Chinese video surveillance equipment maker Hikvision was reportedly paid $6 million by Beijing last year to provide technology that could identify members of the nation’s Uyghur people, a Muslim ethnic majority, according to physical security monitoring org IPVM.

The payment was documented in a contract between Hikvision and the Chinese government obtained by IPVM.

“While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has sharply restricted access to sensitive documents such as this one, this shows that persecution of Uyghur ethnic minorities is ongoing and that Hikvision, in what the authorities called its ‘standard configuration,’ can and does supply this human rights-abusing software,” IPVM’s researchers reported last week.

Beijing regards the Uyghurs as a threat on grounds that their beliefs and affiliation with central Asian cultures represent a threat to Chinese sovereignty. Human rights groups assert that Uyghurs are surveilled, incarcerated, required to perform forced labor, re-educated to abandon their beliefs and cultural practices, and may even be subjected to sterilization campaigns.

Technology vendors are thought to know their wares assist in those efforts, and perhaps even to develop capabilities that enable Beijing’s human rights abuses.

Hikvision earned itself a spot on the US blacklist in 2019 for allegedly being complicit in Beijing’s suppression of the Uyghur population. Hikvision has denied being “knowingly” involved in human rights abuses.

Nvidia was also named in this latest contract, but the accelerator maker says it hasn’t sold kit to Hikvision since 2019.

“We aren’t participating in this project and aren’t aware of any Nvidia customer supplying it,” a spokesperson from the silicon slinger told The Register. “Our customers are aware that they aren’t allowed to ship products in violation of the law or our policies.”

“However, we aren’t able to control used GPUs that resurface on the secondary market, sold by parties that aren’t our customers or partners,” the California-based biz added. “We don’t have the ability to prohibit any third party from referencing Nvidia products in their marketing materials or design guides.”

The contract seen by IPVM, dated December 2022, is for the installation of 210 Hikvision cameras, drones, routers, and camera poles within three months.

The software specified is Hikvision’s DS-IF0100-AI full analysis software, which supports facial, video, and human body analysis. The contract also includes analytics services to determine which category of ethnicity an individual falls into: “unknown,” “non-minority,” or “Uyghur.”

The contract apparently also requires a server packing at least eight Nvidia T4 GPUs – a brand IPVM claims that Hikvision prefers.

The Register requested comment from Hikvision last week, but it had not responded at the time of writing – three business days after approach.

Both Hikvision and Beijing have previously denied any involvement in human rights violations.

Hikvision has also previously claimed that features allowing the identification of Uyghurs was removed from its software in 2018. ®