On Human Rights Day (Dec. 10), the U.S. Treasury Department banned American investments in Chinese artificial intelligence startup SenseTime Group Inc due to their connection to human rights abuse and repression of the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang autonomous region in western China.
The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned SenseTime, a top developer of facial recognition technology, for their connection to "human rights abuse, including technology-enabled abuse" of Uyghur Muslims.
OFAC said SenseTime's "facial recognition programs can determine a target's ethnicity, with a particular focus on identifying ethnic Uyghurs. When applying for patent applications, Shenzhen SenseTime Technology Co. Ltd. has highlighted its ability to identify Uyghurs wearing beards, sunglasses, and masks."
"The mass detention of Uyghurs is part of an effort by Chinese authorities to use detentions and data-driven surveillance to create a police state in the Xinjiang region," the OFAC said.
According to Bloomberg sources, hours before the Treasury's sanctions, SenseTime delayed its Hong Kong initial public offering on early Friday. Bankers familiar with the deal said the pause or withdrawal of the offering would make it more challenging for the A.I. startup to IPO.
SenseTime is already on the U.S. government blacklist, placed on the Commerce Department's Entity List in 2019. It was placed there over its role in human rights violations against Uyghurs. Companies on the list are prohibited from doing business with U.S. firms unless they obtain a special license.
All of this is happening on Human Rights Day, and days after the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, Lithuania, New Zealand, and Scotland have declared a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing over China's abuse of Uyghurs.
Instead of actual "words," the U.S. is becoming brave enough to address the human rights abuses with policy action.