European tech companies risk fuelling widespread human rights abuses by selling digital surveillance technology to China’s public security agencies, a new Amnesty International investigation reveals.
Amnesty International found that three companies based in France, Sweden and the Netherlands sold digital surveillance systems, such as facial recognition technology and network cameras, to key players of the Chinese mass surveillance apparatus. In some cases, the export was directly for use in China’s indiscriminate mass surveillance programmes, with the risk of being used against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups throughout the country.
Most EU governments, including France and Sweden, are resisting calls to strengthen export rules to include strong human rights safeguards in biometric surveillance technology, an area that European companies dominate. Germany, which has held the EU presidency since 1 July, and the Netherlands have both expressed the need for stronger human rights safeguards in the past but have so far failed to address this successfully at EU level.
“Europe’s biometric surveillance industry is out of control. Our revelations of sales to Chinese security agencies and research institutions that support them are just the tip of the iceberg of a multi-billion Euro industry that is flourishing by selling its wares to human rights abusers, with few safeguards against end-use abuses,” said Merel Koning, Senior Policy Officer, Technology and Human Rights at Amnesty International.