Two Australian universities have come under fire for their connection with surveillance technology used by the Chinese government to commit human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and Curtin University have both begun reviews into funding and research, according to an ABC Four Corners.
Since 2017, UTS has been home to the Australia-China Research Innovation Centre in Information and Electronics Technologies (IET).
The centre has been governed by UTS and the China Electronics Group Corporation (CETC) and has been receiving millions in funding from CETC.
Human Rights Watch released a report in May connecting CETC with an app used by Chinese officials to monitor the Muslim Uyghur population living in Xinjiang province.
The app contains comprehensive personal information about individuals and flags people for investigation based on ‘suspicious’ activities like abnormal electricity and phone usage.
Chinese authorities have detained thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslims in the region’s ‘re-education’ camps, and forcing them to work in factories.
Elaine Pearson, Director of Human Rights Watch Australia, told the ABC she thought no Australian University would want to be linked with “tools of repression in China”.
"This is an app that has been designed to gather basic information about Uyghurs and other Muslims,” she said.
“We know that people have been sent to political re-education camps on the basis of information collected through this application."
Curtin University in WA has been criticised for the research output of a staff member.
Liu Wan-Quan is an Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering, Computing and Mathematical Sciences who has been working on facial recognition research programs funded by the Chinese government.
Wan-Quan recently co-authored a paper titled ‘Facial feature discovery for ethnicity recognition’ in which the researchers develop a method of AI identification based on “an ethical group face dataset including Chinese Uyghur, Tibetan, and Korean”.
Curtin University told the ABC it “unequivocally condemns the use of artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology, for any form of ethnic profiling to negatively impact and/or persecute any person or group."
Last week, it was revealed that China’s extreme surveillance of Xinjiang’s residents has been extended to the region’s tourists.
People crossing the Xinjiang border are required to hand over their smart phones in order for Chinese authorities to install a data-stealing app that scans calendar entries, contacts, call logs, and text messages and matches them against 70,000 target files.
UTS said in a statement that it began reviewing its partnership in April after learning of the Human Rights Watch report and said that no research has been directly involved with the surveillance of Uyghur people in Xinjiang.
“CETC has confirmed they have not used research outputs from the partnership with UTS in any products or applications to date,” UTS said.
“Nonetheless, UTS will consider possible future applications as part of its review. UTS at this stage has no plans for new work with CETC and will assess the current contractual agreements in light of the review.”