Banned Chinese Facial Recognition Technology Was Used in Search for US Protesters

Banned Chinese Facial Recognition Technology Was Used in Search for US Protesters (



from the nowhere-to-hide dept.

Some protesters in Minnesota set a fire last year. But then the surveillance footage from that day “set off a nearly yearlong, international manhunt…involving multiple federal agencies and Mexican police. The pursuit also involved a facial recognition system made by a Chinese company that has been blacklisted by the U.S. government.”

The New York Times tells the story of the couple who was eventually arrested:
Ms. Yousif gave birth while on the run, and was separated from her baby for four months by the authorities. To prosecutors, the pursuit of Mr. Felan, who was charged with arson, and Ms. Yousif, who was charged with helping him flee, was a routine response to a case of property destruction… But beyond the prosecutorial aftermath of the racial justice protests, the eight-month saga of a young Minnesota couple exposed an emerging global surveillance system that might one day find anyone, anywhere, the technology traveling easily over borders while civil liberties struggle to keep pace…

They drove, heading south on Interstate 35, a highway that runs down the middle of the country, stretching from Duluth, Minn., on Lake Superior, to Laredo, Texas, on the Mexican border. They had made their way through Iowa and just hit the northern part of Missouri, 300 miles from Rochester, when police first caught up with them. A warrant had been issued for Mr. Felan’s arrest, allowing the authorities to ping his cellphone to locate him. According to a court document, late on a Monday night, more than a week after the events in St. Paul, local police in rural western Missouri, who were asked to go where the phone was pinging, stopped a black S.U.V. registered to Mr. Felan. Ms. Yousif was driving, and said she didn’t know where Mr. Felan was. The police let her go…

Over the next week, police kept pinging the location of Mr. Felan’s phone but kept missing him. According to a court document, he sent a message to his brother in Texas saying he was turning it off between messages, worried about being tracked; the couple eventually bought new phones… On a Friday night in mid-June 2020, a surveillance camera at a Holiday Inn outside San Antonio captured Ms. Yousif and Mr. Felan driving his mother’s brown Toyota Camry into the hotel’s parking lot. They got out of the car, walked outside the view of the camera and then disappeared…

Later in Mexico, at a meeting with law enforcement officials in Coahuila, Federico PĂ©rez Villoro, an investigative journalist, remembers meeting a government employee in charge of Mexico’s first large-scale facial recognition system who’d said America’s FBI had asked them for help finding people accused of terrorism. This is significant because they were using the Dahua surveillance system from China, that’s partly state-owned and “blacklisted by the U.S. government in 2019…According to a notice in the Federal Register, Dahua’s products were used in “China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention and high-technology surveillance” against Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups.”

Ironically, in the end it wasn’t the $30 million system that identified the couple, according to the U.S. Justice Department. It was somebody who’d contacted them directly to collect the $20,000 reward. “But the technology is spreading globally, in part because China is aggressively marketing it abroad, said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Center for A.I. and Digital Policy, a nonprofit in Washington…. China is marketing mass surveillance technology to its trading partners in Africa, Asia and South America, he explained, pitching it as a way to minimize crime and promote public order in major metropolitan areas.”

In a 2019 report on video analytics, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that millions of surveillance cameras installed in recent decades are “waking up” thanks to automation, such as facial recognition technology, which allows them to not just record, but to analyze what is happening and flag what they see…

Lack of skill dictates economy of style.
– Joey Ramone


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