US sanctions a Chinese facial recognition company with Silicon Valley funding

The U.S. Department of Commerce has sanctioned 14 Chinese tech companies for human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, one of which is backed by a top Silicon Valley investment firm.

DeepGlint, also known as Beijing Geling Shentong Information Technology Co., Ltd., is a facial recognition company with deep ties to Chinese police surveillance and funded by US-based Sequoia Capital. Today, the Department of Commerce added it to the list of companies that restrict U.S. companies from doing business with publicly traded companies without special permission. Sequoia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to the South China Morning Post, DeepGlint co-founded a facial recognition lab with Chinese authorities in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi in 2018. It has also earned international bragging rights through testing by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as a facial recognition vendor. DeepGlint has claimed the highest accuracy in tests as of January 2021, making it a powerful marketing tool in the security and surveillance industry.

DeepGlint accepted the public offering on Shanghai’s STAR stock exchange, but the company hasn’t seen any commercial success from other AI startups in China, Jeffrey Ding explained in a ChinAI newsletter last month. Because the company invests too much in government affairs, it has to follow a slow government procurement cycle and is unlikely to succeed in large-scale infrastructure projects.

Sequoia Capital later funded another company on the Entity List. In 2020, Sequoia-backed Yitu Technology was added to the list of similar human rights violations. Sequoia invested in DeepGlint in 2014, before the Uighur genocide in China was revealed. (In the same year, Bill Gates even referred to the startup as “very cool” according to KrAsia.)

The Ministry of Commerce also sanctioned the Xinjiang Lianhai Chuangzhi Company and the Chengdu Xiwu Security System Alliance, which are subsidiaries of Chinese munitions companies. According to the website and academic reports, both provide surveillance equipment and services. According to a report by the Italian Institute for International Politics, the Xinjiang Lianhai Chuangzhi Company has created an AI-powered checkpoint system that can track Uyghurs as they move through the city.

Another company sanctioned today is Leon Technology, a surveillance company controlled by Chinese AI giant SenseTime, until its role in providing repressive technology was reported in Xinjiang in 2019. SenseTime then sold its 51% stake.

The Commerce Department’s sanctions included nine other Chinese companies and Iranian, Russian and Canadian companies for national security reasons.

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