China's surveillance equipment manufacturer Dahua has come under scrutiny for offering cameras with a feature labeled as "skin color analytics," raising serious human rights and privacy concerns. The report, released by the US-based security and surveillance industry research group IPVM (Internet Protocol Video Market), exposes the deployment of this technology in Europe and its potential implications.
According to the IPVM report, Dahua's cameras equipped with "skin color analytics" are being sold in Europe, with deployments in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. This feature reportedly allows cameras to automatically determine the skin color of individuals in the captured video footage, categorizing them as "yellow," "black," or "white."
The Chinese manufacturer's involvement in Xinjiang has also raised alarms. Dahua, along with another Chinese video surveillance company Hikvision, has secured contracts worth USD 1 billion from the government of Xinjiang province since 2016. Xinjiang is known for being a center of Uyghur life, and reports have previously revealed extensive surveillance measures used against the Uyghur population.
Dahua lists cameras with "skin color" analytics in 3 European countries covered by the GDPR, despite the GDPR banning processing that can reveal a person's race or ethnicity, IPVM has found.
Dahua defended its "skin color analytics" as a "basic feature of a smart security solution." The company claims that this capability is intended for general identification purposes and is not targeted at specific racial, ethnic, or national groups. However, such technology could enable racial profiling and infringe on privacy and human rights.
The use of surveillance technology to identify skin color has sparked controversy due to its potential for discrimination and bias. Western nations have raised concerns over facial recognition systems that have proven to be error-prone, particularly for individuals with darker skin tones.
In February 2021, IPVM and the Los Angeles Times reported that Dahua provided a video surveillance system with "real-time Uyghur warnings" to the Chinese police that included eyebrow size, skin color and ethnicity.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission determined in 2022 that the products of Chinese technology companies such as Dahua and Hikvision, which has close ties to Beijing, posed a threat to U.S. national security.
Before the U.S. sales bans, Hikvision and Dahua ranked first and second among global surveillance and access control firms, according to The China Project.
Anna Bacciarelli, technology manager at Human Rights Watch, emphasized, "Surveillance software with skin tone analytic poses a significant risk to the right to equality and non-discrimination… and should simply not be created or sold in the first place."
The issue isn't confined to China; global ramifications are evident. In 2022, the US Federal Communications Commission deemed Chinese technology products, including Dahua and Hikvision's offerings, as threats to national security. Additionally, the European Union recently proposed a revision to its draft Artificial Intelligence Law, aiming to ban facial recognition systems in public spaces.
Edited and collated by Team TRC