U.S. blacklists Chinese firm that sold video surveillance technology to Iran

The Biden administration on Thursday blacklisted a Chinese video surveillance company that officials say has ties to the crackdown on Uyghurs in China and provides U.S.-made technology to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Blacklisted Tiandi Technology touted its facial recognition software as designed to help Chinese authorities identify Uyghurs or other ethnic minorities, as well as “smart” interrogation tables, NBC News previously reported.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s sanctions on Tiandy have restricted U.S. companies from exporting components to the company.

California-based semiconductor giant Intel Corporation. Provide processors for Tiandi network video recording system. But before the announcement of the sanctions decision, Intel Corporation. Removed references to Tiandy from its website.

Intel spokeswoman Penny Bruce told NBC News on Thursday that the company “ceased doing business with Tiandy following an internal review.”

Tiandi Technology did not respond to a request for comment.

Losing Intel’s business marks a potentially serious setback for Tianjin Tiandi, a privately held company based in the northern city of Tianjin that is one of the top video surveillance companies in China and the world. An industry survey put the company’s annual sales at more than $800 million in 2021, and the company said it has operations in more than 60 countries.

NBC News reported earlier this month that the Republican senator. In a letter, Florida’s Marco Rubio urged the Biden administration to review Tiandy’s business and consider whether the company should be sanctioned under U.S. law for its activities in China and Iran.

On Thursday, Rubio called sanctions “the right thing to do,” but said more action was needed.

“The Chinese Communist Party is weaponizing technology companies to advance its geopolitical goals,” Rubio said in an email. “The Department of Commerce needs to be more aggressive in using all available tools to identify and punish bad actors.”

In announcing the sanctions, the U.S. Department of Commerce said Tiandy “is suspected of human rights violations and abuses in the course of China’s repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-tech surveillance of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” “

By selling products containing U.S.-made parts, the company enabled Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to gain access to U.S.-made technology, which is prohibited by U.S. sanctions, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Human rights advocates and lawmakers fear that Iranian authorities could use Tiandy’s video surveillance technology to help suppress a wave of anti-government protests in the country.

It is unclear how Iran used Tiandy’s technology, the specific equipment provided by Tiandy and how the company might have advised the government on its use. But experts say the Iranian government is trying to emulate China’s use of digital technology to tighten controls and counter criticism and dissent.

Tiandy was one of 36 companies and organizations added Thursday to the Commerce Department’s “Entity List,” which blacklists companies engaged in activities deemed contrary to U.S. national security interests.

Tiandy released the company’s “interrogation table” for Chinese authorities, which provides “one-click interrogation” and transcript “proofreading” functions, saying it “greatly improves the efficiency of interrogation.”

The company also posted photos of the interrogation table in front of “tiger chairs,” which have footcuffs and handcuffs. Citing accounts from former detainees, Human Rights Watch accused Chinese police of tying Uyghurs to chairs for hours or even days during interrogations to immobilize them. China has denied the allegations.

The US-based security industry research firm and trade publication Internet Protocol Video Market (IPVM) first reported Tiandy’s work with Iran in 2021, including a five-year contract with the government.

“Given Tiandy’s role in rights violations, today’s Department of Commerce’s sanctions against Tiandy are not surprising. This is a company that trains computers to detect Uyghurs and provides PRC (People’s Republic of China) authorities with torture equipment ‘smart’ interrogation solutions,” said Conor Healy, IPVM Director of Government Research.

Craig Singleton, a senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, who wrote a report on Tiandy earlier this month, said blacklisting the company “sends a clear message that Washington takes Chinese technology seriously.” authoritarianism, and will hold accountable those who facilitate Beijing’s human rights atrocities.”

He added, “For too long, Chinese companies that have supported China’s surveillance state have seen near-impunity.”

A U.S. company must now obtain a special license to export products to Tiandi, according to the Commerce Department’s blacklist.

But Tiandy and other Chinese tech companies could face tougher sanctions under a bill introduced by senators on Thursday. Rubio and Republican congressmen. August Pfluger of Texas.

The bill requires the executive branch to report details of individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses in China and requires President Joe Biden to impose property blocking sanctions and visa blocking sanctions on violators.

The U.S. has imposed multiple sanctions on other Chinese tech companies and has accused telecom giant Huawei and others of exporting technology abroad that can be used as a domestic surveillance tool, including in Iran.

Huawei has denied the allegations.

The Biden administration effectively banned the sale or import of new equipment from some Chinese surveillance companies last month.

China strongly rejects U.S. criticism of Chinese technology companies and their treatment of Uyghurs or other Muslim minorities at home.

Last month, Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, told NBC News that the embassy cannot speak on behalf of private Chinese companies. But he said it was “ridiculous” to paint Chinese technology as a security threat.

“As we all know, it is a common practice in the international community to use modern technological developments such as big data and camera surveillance to improve social governance, and the United States is no exception,” the spokesperson said.

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