US blacklists Chinese AI startups, including facial recognition firms

Prior to high-level trade talks in Washington, the US government has expanded its entity list to include a number of top AI start-ups in China, including several facial recognition companies.

In total, 20 Chinese public security bureaus and eight companies, including video surveillance company Hikvision and facial recognition companies SenseTime and Megvii, have been blacklisted by the US.

These companies will not be able to buy components from US companies without the direct approval of the US government, much as Washington has attempted to limit Huawei's influence for national security reasons.

The ongoing trade war between China and the US has already taken 15 months, but US officials said that adding these Chinese AI startups and face recognition companies to the Entity list is not tied to the resumption of trade talks between the two countries.

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In a recent document, the Commerce Department explained why it has decided to blacklist these new companies:

"These organizations were involved in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of the Chinese campaign against oppression, arbitrary mass arrest and high-tech surveillance against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minority groups in XUAR."

China responded by calling on the US to stop meddling in its affairs, and State Department spokesman Geng Shuang said the country would continue to take decisive action to protect its sovereign security.

Hikvision said it "resolutely" opposed the Ministry of Commerce's decision and that in January the company mandated a human rights expert and former US ambassador to advise him on respecting human rights. A company spokesman said the decision would ultimately damage the US economy, saying:

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"Hikvision's punishment will keep global companies from communicating with the US government, violating Hikvision's US business partners and negatively affecting the US economy."

By including these Chinese AI start-ups and surveillance companies in the Department of Commerce Entity List, the US could hope to gain the upper hand in trade talks with China, or it could finally come to federal regulation on the use of face recognition technologies.

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