May 24, 2019

As Alarming Reports Continue To Emerge About China’s Use Of Cutting-Edge Technologies To Commit Human Rights Atrocities Against Uyghurs, Gillibrand Calls On Trump Administration To Implement Export Controls On New Technologies That Could Be Used To Violate Human Rights

Expanded Export Controls Would Help Stop Human Rights Atrocities, Protect America’s National Security; Letter to Commerce Secretary Ross Urges Controls Should Cover New Technologies Including Surveillance and DNA Tools; Gillibrand: Our Country – Including American Innovation and Expertise – Should Not Play Any Role in Helping China Carry Out Violations of Human Rights in Xinjiang

Washington, DC – As alarming reports continue to emerge about the unprecedented use of cutting-edge technology to commit widespread human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim Chinese citizens, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced she has called on U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to update U.S. export controls on American technology that could be used by China or other repressive regimes to commit human rights violations. Gillibrand’s letter follows reports that the Chinese government has forced an estimated more than one million Uyghur, Kazakh, and other Muslim Chinese citizens into so-called reeducation camps for political indoctrination. Many members of these minority communities who have not been sent to camps are subject to constant, invasive monitoring with new, high-tech tools.

Beyond their current use to oppress millions of people in China, new high-tech tools and technologies also have vast applications in advancing China’s broader economic and military goals against the United States and around the world.

“One major purpose of export controls is to help protect the national security of the United States. Yet the national security control category does not make human rights a consideration, as do some other categories of existing U.S. technology control regimes,” Senator Gillibrand wrote in her letter. “Our country – including American innovation and expertise – should not play any role in helping China carry out violations of human rights in Xinjiang. I urge you to take my concerns into consideration while you continue to develop export controls on emerging technologies. They will help us protect our own country, and they can help stop the ongoing tragedy in Xinjiang.”

The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Secretary Ross,

As we near the thirty-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, we write out of deep concern regarding the Chinese government’s use of advanced monitoring technologies to violate human rights. Alarming reports have emerged detailing how an estimated more than one million Uyghur, Kazakh, and other Muslim Chinese citizens have been forced into so-called reeducation camps for political indoctrination. Many of those who have not been sent to camps are subject to constant, invasive monitoring in their daily lives. Not only are these practices a shocking violation of these communities’ human rights, but this large database of people’s most personal information provides the Chinese government with a valuable tool for expanding their technological prowess in ways that threaten American values and interests.

The Chinese government is using artificial intelligence, coupled with a vast web of surveillance cameras, in order to identify, track, and harass Chinese Muslim communities. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, “Xinjiang authorities have collected biometrics, including DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans, and blood types of all residents in the region between the ages of 12 and 65.” DNA can be used to identify Uyghur heritage, and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has applied for patents on how to identify a person’s ethnicity from their genetic information. Exacerbating this problem is the use of advanced technologies, some of them including U.S. exports and contributions from U.S. researchers, to control the day-to-day lives of these religious minorities living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Chinese government has used QR codes, smart phone apps, and coercive interrogation to monitor the movements and religious practices of Uyghurs.

The New York Times and other American news outlets have reported that the Chinese government’s monitoring of Uyghurs is an unprecedented form of racial profiling in terms of scope and precision, propelled by state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and machine learning. The Chinese government is effectively capitalizing on its disregard for the privacy and wellbeing of its own citizens in order to accelerate the development of artificial intelligence and associated technology products for unacceptable objectives. As the New York Times has explained, “China has an advantage in developing A.I. because its leaders are less fussed by ‘legal intricacies’ or ‘moral consensus.’” Beyond their current use to oppress millions of people in China, these tools and technologies also have vast applications in advancing China’s broader economic, military, political, and ideological goals.

Given these concerns, it is critical that as you craft new, congressionally mandated export controls on emerging technologies, you address the risks associated with the proliferation of American-made advanced technologies to China or other oppressive regimes. One major purpose of export controls is to help protect the national security of the United States. Yet the national security export control list does not make human rights a consideration, as do some other categories of existing U.S. technology control regimes. This means that entities such as Chinese law enforcement bodies that carry out the oppressive activities described in reports by Human Rights Watch and the New York Times, among others, are able to legally obtain technologies from the U.S. that can be used to further their goals. American foreign policy requires moral leadership on the world stage, and these considerations are also important to our own national security interests. The ability to curtail the spread of technology that is intended to be used for oppression is required for reaching this goal. Human rights considerations are already taken into account for the export of items on the other control lists. Extending this consideration to items controlled for national security purposes is long overdue.

Export controls must also be able to secure critical technologies from dangerous use by governments that hide behind claims of civil end-uses to further their authoritarian reach. As you know, technologies with a civil end-use are reviewed pursuant to a general policy of approval, as opposed to the higher burden of skepticism accorded to products characterized with military end-uses. As a result, exports can be regarded as civil even though they may be used in ways that risk America’s national security. For example, unmanned aerial vehicles are on the national security control list and can be exported to China on the basis of civil end-use even though they have been used for mass surveillance, particularly in Xinjiang. The simple binary civil vs. military distinction is inadequate for the gray zone that includes the Chinese government’s use of emerging technologies to suppress its own citizens and its development of global surveillance technologies. The line between military and civil end-uses will only continue to blur as authoritarian governments further exploit new technology to create surveillance states. Therefore, moving beyond the old binary civil vs. military classifications would be beneficial in forming a 21st century architecture for export controls and advancing U.S. interests.

It is in the national security interest of the United States to oppose oppressive governments’ abuse of technological innovation. Our country – including American innovation and expertise – should not play any role in helping China carry out violations of human rights in Xinjiang. That is why we must have better, updated export controls that meet the challenges of today’s world. They will help us protect our own country, and they can help stop the ongoing tragedy in Xinjiang. As the human rights catastrophe in Xinjiang continues, we urge you to take our concerns into consideration while you continue to develop export controls on emerging technologies. We look forward to a prompt response to this letter.

Sincerely,