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Chinese firm selling surveillance technology to Iran under scrutiny

As Iran seeks to quell opposition protests, human rights activists and lawmakers fear Iranian authorities can take advantage of advanced video surveillance technology provided by Chinese firms using US chips. .

According to Tiandy’s website and social media posts, Tiandy Technologies sells its surveillance cameras to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and other security agencies. One of his major US semiconductor companies, Intel Corp., has named the Chinese company as a partner, providing his Intel-made processors for some of Tiandy’s video recording equipment.

Tiandy is one of several Chinese companies at the center of China’s vast domestic surveillance network, experts and human rights advocates say. Tiandy says it is providing Chinese authorities with facial recognition software designed to identify Uyghurs and other minorities, as well as “smart” interrogation tables.

Tiandy’s activities in China and Iran are now under scrutiny in Washington.

Senator Marco Rubio said in a letter sent to the Biden administration Wednesday and obtained by NBC News that the company’s commercial pact with Iran meant that “Tiandi’s products were being used against peaceful Iranian protesters. It raises serious questions about whether there is.”

Standing on top of a car as thousands make their way to the Aichi Prefectural Cemetery in Sakaez, Masa Amini's hometown in Kurdistan, Iran, on October 26, 2022, to mark the 40th anniversary of her death. woman.
On October 26, to mark the 40th anniversary of her death, thousands of people stand on top of a car as they head to the Aichi prefectural cemetery in Sakez, Masa Amini’s hometown in Kurdistan, Iran. Woman.Via Twitter/AFP – Getty Images

In a letter to the State, Treasury and Commerce Departments, Florida Republicans questioned whether the company violated U.S. laws that impose sanctions on companies responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses. I asked the government to consider what to do.

Rubio said, “We request that Tiandi engage in conduct that may meet the criteria set by Congress for designation by the authorities and report to Congress.”

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said in an email when asked about Tiandi: We continue to call for accountable persons and organizations to support human rights abuses by the People’s Republic of China and Iran. “

A State Department spokesperson issued the same statement.

Tiandi and Iran’s UN delegation did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said the embassy cannot speak on behalf of private Chinese companies. But he said it was “absurd” to portray Chinese technology as a security threat.

“As you know, it is common practice in the international community to use modern scientific and technological developments, such as the use of big data and surveillance cameras, to improve social governance, and the United States is no exception. No,” the spokesperson said.

The Internet Protocol Video Marketplace (IPVM), a US-based security industry research firm and trade publication, has published social media posts and its website.

“Tiandy Technologies is the most dangerous Chinese company most people have ever heard of,” said Craig Singleton, Senior China Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy think tank.

“Companies like Tiandy Technologies that directly enable human rights atrocities should be put out of business,” Singleton said.

The FDD’s new report, authored by Singleton, suggests the Biden administration should consider whether Tiandi deserves US sanctions related to human rights in both China and Iran, while others with similar legislation, including the UK, should consider whether Tiandi deserves it. governments should also consider. possible sanctions.

It is not clear how Iran uses Tiandy’s technology, exactly what equipment it provides, or how the company is advising the government on its use. But experts say Iran is mimicking China’s use of digital technology in an attempt to consolidate its dominance and counter criticism and dissent.

The US has already imposed a number of sanctions on other Chinese tech companies, with telecoms giant Huawei and others exporting technology abroad that could be used as a tool for domestic surveillance, including in Iran. I am accusing you of doing so.

Last week, the Biden administration effectively banned the sale or importation of new equipment from many Chinese surveillance firms, although Tiandy Technologies was not named.

However, Tiandy Technologies is not currently subject to US sanctions or export controls.

Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said China’s surveillance technology tends to be cheap and attractive to some authoritarian governments.

“The problem with dictatorships is clearly the lack of regulation, and in fact regulation is bought specifically for surveillance purposes,” Wang said.

Surveillance system of Tiandy Technologies Co. in Tianjin, China
A surveillance camera manufactured by Tiandy Technologies Co. in operation in Tianjin, China, February 22, 2019. Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

She said she was not familiar with Tiandi’s activities in Iran, but said, “We want these surveillance companies to sanction globally and quickly before this kind of system takes hold in these places.” I have argued for some time that I should receive

Tiandy, a privately held company based in the northern city of Tianjin, ranks among the top video surveillance companies in China and the world with annual revenue of over $800 million in 2021, according to industry research. The company says it has branches in more than 60 countries.

According to a social media post first reported by IPVM, Tiandy’s chief executive, Dai Lin, is the company’s secretary of the Communist Party of China, and has held up banners encouraging people to “follow the lead of the party.” was in the photo.

According to Intel Corp.’s website, the US company provides Celeron, Core and Xeon processors for Tiandy’s network video recording system, allowing users to link thousands of closed-circuit cameras.

It is unclear to what extent Intel-powered devices are used in Iran and China.

According to Tiandy’s website, Intel gave Tiandy the Security Industry Strategic Partner Award in 2018 and the Intel Application Innovation Award in 2019.

As a U.S. company, Intel “complies with all applicable laws, including export control regulations,” Intel spokesperson Penny Bruce said in response to a question from NBC News. .

“If an Intel product is re-exported or transferred by a third party, or incorporated into a new item, the third party is responsible for compliance with U.S. export regulations,” Bruce said.

“We take these allegations seriously and are investigating the matter,” she added, referring to Intel’s products being potentially linked to repression in Iran and China.

Over the past two years, Intel Corp. has joined other technology companies in lobbying Congress to support legislation that would allocate billions of dollars to semiconductor manufacturing. The CHIPS and Science Act he signed into law in August.

Given Intel’s partnership with Tiandy, FDD’s Singleton said the Department of Commerce and other U.S. government agencies are “noticing the proper review of Intel’s activities and its potential assistance to other Chinese companies that enable humans.” “Until we are able to conduct an independent investigation, we must reconsider our relationship with Intel.” Right atrocities. “

heathrow camera

The United States has warned U.S. companies and allies about doing business with Chinese technology companies that pose potential risks to repression and cybersecurity inside China.

According to Tiandy’s website, it designed and installed a camera for Heathrow Airport in the UK. A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport told NBC News it had “no relationship with this company” but declined to provide further details.

Asked about Tiandy’s relationship with Heathrow, a UK government official said the UK government is “committed to helping British companies engage with Chinese technology companies in a way that reflects British values.” said.

“We are deeply concerned that China is using high-tech surveillance to unfairly target Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang,” the official said.

The UK government has issued guidance to help UK businesses “negotiate the ethical, legal and commercial issues they may encounter when working with or in China”. , the official added.

“Tiger Chair” and Interrogation Table

Most of Tiandy’s 2,000 employees work at the company’s headquarters in Tianjin, according to its website, but the company also operates a small office in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, where human rights groups and Western governments say Uyghurs face serious repression. .

The Biden administration has described China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims as genocide and accused the Chinese government of mass detention and sterilization of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. Human rights groups use similar language. China has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Tiandy’s Xinjiang website says the Chinese police and judiciary use the company’s “interrogation solution.” In his May 2021 post, the company touts an “intelligence interrogation table” that offers “one-click interrogation” and “proofreading” of transcripts, saying it will “greatly improve interrogation efficiency.” .

The company posted a picture of an interrogation table in front of a “tiger chair” with shackles and handcuffs. Human Rights Watch, citing testimony from former detainees, accused Chinese police of tying Uyghurs to chairs for hours, sometimes days, to immobilize them during interrogations. China denies this claim.

Like other video technology companies in China, Tiandy’s software includes an ethnic tracking tool, which can allegedly be used to digitally identify someone’s race. Tiandy’s software development kit, available since July 2020, features a ‘race’ analysis, yielding results such as ‘yellow’, ‘black’, and ‘Uyghur’.

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