Chinese public security agencies have been acquiring US technology, with transfers becoming more regular, particularly of DNA analyzers needed for mass surveillance, according to a new report.
The report “The Role of US Technology in China’s Public Security System” by US intelligence and security research Insikt Group revealed the far-reaching scale of technology transfers from US companies to Chinese companies for use by the public security apparatus, including in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
From DNA analysis to thermal imaging, from data storage to digital forensics and cybersecurity, a wide range of US technology has been transferred to the Chinese public security system.
Surveillance and counter-surveillance are among the priorities of technology transfer, the report says.
“In some cases, public security agencies in China are almost certainly looking for technology from US companies because foreign products outperform domestic equivalents,” it said.
In other cases, the technology was acquired “to ensure compatibility” as it was already being used by Chinese organizations.
According to the report, public security agencies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region “appeared to have purchased at least 481 hard drives from Seagate and Western Digital in early to mid-2022,” including drives specialized in surveillance and drives purchased along with equipment from China’s leading surveillance vendor.
Both Seagate Technology Holdings and Western Digital Corporation are well-known American data storage companies.
“Other units in Xinjiang, such as prisons run by the paramilitary Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, have also recently made surveillance-oriented purchases of Seagate or Western Digital hard drives,” it said.
Another report The study, released last year, also said US tech companies are supplying China’s surveillance state with equipment and software to monitor populations and censor information, including in Xinjiang.
Western governments and human rights groups have condemned Beijing for this Surveillance and other abusive measures against the 12 million Muslim Uyghurs in the region they said tantamount to genocide and crimes against humanity. China has repeatedly denied the allegations.
“Extremely frequent transfers”
“When I started the research, I didn’t expect these technology transfers to be so widespread,” said the report’s author, Zoe Haver.
She began the project by dealing with transfers of surveillance equipment used by the US military and law enforcement agencies, but during the process she found that Chinese public security agencies were using US technology for use in many other areas, such as aeronautics, DNA, purchased analytics, thermal imaging, optics, surveillance, cybersecurity, network infrastructure and data storage.
“Some of the technologies I pursued, such as B. DNA analyzers, I observed new purchases almost daily. These remittances are very common across China,” she told RFA.
China’s state security apparatus has been looking for DNA analysis equipment, with its reliance on US technology in this area “most notable,” according to the analyst.
“This equipment can potentially be used to build population databases and perform mass surveillance,” Haver said.
Bodies of the powerful Ministry of Public Security (MPS) have acquired US technology through legal channels at industry exhibitions, third-party agents and distributors, and even from local affiliates of US companies in China.
Chinese companies have been buying up more and more US firms recently, and according to the report, this has “supported the growth of China’s domestic industries and facilitated the sale of US products to public safety end-users.”
Another factor is the cross-border talent flows that have become increasingly common in the age of globalization.
US Control Response
Haver compiled the report by reviewing thousands of Chinese government procurement documents, and said she was impressed by the sheer number of procurement documents.
In response to the state violence exercised by Chinese public security agencies, particularly in Xinjiang, the US government has taken some steps in recent years to limit the transfer of US technology to them.
The Export Control Reform Act of 2018 referred to items that have law enforcement-related applications and stated that “US export control policy should be designed to protect human rights.”
In 2019 and 2020, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security placed 21 Chinese public safety organizations (in addition to various Chinese companies) on an export license restriction list.
But Insikt’s report raised questions about “the effectiveness of current US export control measures targeting Chinese public security agencies and the Chinese companies that support them.”
“Because third-party vendors and agents play such a prominent role in the technology transfer process, it could be difficult for the US government to implement effective export controls,” Haver told RFA.