US Lawmakers Want An Examination Of The US Money Funding Surveillance Tech In China

US Lawmakers Want An Examination Of The US Money Funding Surveillance Tech In China

By:  Ryan Mac


US lawmakers are urging institutions to reevaluate their financial relationships with facial recognition companies operating in Xinjiang, China, in light of a BuzzFeed News investigation that found US public pension funds, universities, and foundations are funding two startups developing technology used in the surveillance of Chinese citizens.

Last month, BuzzFeed News reported that organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation, Princeton University, and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest public employee retirement fund, have helped fund SenseTime and Megvii, two leading Chinese facial recognition companies whose technology is used by the Chinese government to surveil its citizens.

Of major concern for human rights activists and lawmakers is the deployment of those facial recognition tools in Xinjiang, a heavily surveilled region in northwest China that is home to more than 11 million Uighur Muslims. Since 2017, Chinese authorities have detained more than a million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in internment camps. Detainees who’ve escaped have reported being subjected to torture, abuse, and political indoctrination.

“We must stop this, period.”

“China uses its growing and unfettered access to America’s over $30 trillion capital markets to help finance its military threats, espionage, and egregious human rights abuses,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime critic of Chinese policies, told BuzzFeed News in a statement. “We must stop this, period.”

As BuzzFeed News first reported, large US institutional investors entrusted their money to venture capital or private equity firms that in turn invested in SenseTime or Megvii. For example, the Florida State Board of Administration, which oversees the assets of the Florida Retirement System, is one of many “limited partners” in private equity giant Silver Lake Partners, an investor in a $600 million round of funding in SenseTime in April 2018. Rubio did not directly comment on this investment relationship.

Using venture capital intelligence services and public disclosures, BuzzFeed News identified six prominent universities and 19 public pension plans or retirement systems that have an indirect interest in at least one of the two companies. There are likely more, since not all limited partners in venture or private equity firms are required to publicly disclose their investments.

“I’m deeply disturbed by the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which have been marked by extensive surveillance and internment of Uighur Muslims,” said Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, whose state treasury is an indirect investor in Megvii through Silicon Valley venture firm GGV Capital. “I would encourage any American-run fund to examine their investments and seriously consider divesting from companies whose technologies are being used to commit these abuses.”

“I would encourage any American-run fund to examine their investments and seriously consider divesting ... ”

Merkley is backing the Senate’s Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, a bipartisan bill co-led by Rubio, which advocates for sanctions against individuals and companies found to be involved in the violation of human rights in Xinjiang. Of the 17 senators supporting the bill, five — Oregon’s Merkley and Ron Wyden, Rubio, John Cornyn of Texas, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York — are from states where public employee pension plans are indirect investors in SenseTime or Megvii.

Wyden and Cornyn declined to comment on those financial ties, while a spokesperson for Gillibrand did not respond to a request for comment. The bill’s main Democratic cosponsor, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, also did not respond to a request for comment after BuzzFeed News found that Infinova, a Monmouth Junction, New Jersey–based manufacturer of surveillance cameras, had been supplying security systems with SenseTime software to Xinjiang authorities.....