Unsanctioned Chinese company called Tiandy has raised the eyebrows of human rights activists over its racial detection features and ‘tiger chairs’.
China’s fourth largest CCTV company, Tiandy, continued to thrive unfettered all this time (Representational)
By Dipti Yadav: Tiandy, PRC’s fourth largest CCTV company responsible for crackdowns on Uyghurs, managed to stay far from the public eye for so long, as per a report by FDD.
With surveillance companies like Dahua and Hikvision facing sanctions by countries like the US and UK for promoting human rights violations in the Xinjiang region, yet another unsanctioned Chinese company called Tiandy has raised the eyebrows of human rights activists over its racial detection features and ‘tiger chairs’.
A recent statement from the Iranian government over the implementation of automated facial detection technology against the dissenters has solidified further that Tiandy could be one of the operators in the quest in days to come.
Until recently, known Chinese closed-circuit television (CCTV) manufacturers were being targeted by some key nations across the world, including the UK, where PM Rishi Sunak banned the presence of Chinese surveillance cameras around “sensitive regions” just a few weeks prior. Biden followed the same by banning the sale and import of products from several Chinese surveillance companies in the US, including Huawei.
Still and all, China’s fourth largest CCTV company, Tiandy, continued to thrive unfettered all this time, according to a freshly published report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which is a Washington, DC-based non-partisan national security and foreign policy research institute established two decades back. Online search results show that Tiandy’s equipment is also available for sale in India.
Founded in 1998, Tiandy boasts itself as having posited seventh in the surveillance field. Its equipment is in use in 60 countries as of now. Intel Corp., a well-known US-based semiconductor firm, lists the company as a partner in the sector of safety and security, also having received accolades for its ‘innovative’ work by the American company.
Of what are called Intelligent Video Analytics (IVA) in the technical terminology, some of Tiandy’s advanced surveillance cameras come equipped with such behaviour analysis features as people counting, crowd detection, missing object detection and even racial detection, one of the pivotal features being used in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China by the officials in charge.
As per a 2021 report published by the Uyghur Tribunal on the Uyghur Face Detection (UFD) feature present in popular Chinese CCTV cameras, a Tiandy SDK dated July 2020 included racial detection as one of the detection capabilities of their cameras.
The same company also touts manufacturing “Smart Interrogation Tables” (attached with tiger chairs) especially for adding to the ease of law enforcement, insinuating Uyghur suppression as could be seen in this Human Rights Watch report dating back to 2015.
A simple textual search on a random threat hunting search engine for “Tiandy” shows several hosts across the globe with the top operator being China. Among the top organisations operating on Tiandy products is China Mobile Communications Corporation, the largest telecommunications network operator operating in both the People’s Republic of China, and the world.
US Senator Marco Rubio has sent a letter to the Biden administration urging it to consider sanctioning Tiandy Technologies, which also provides surveillance gear to Chinese authorities, as per NBC news.
Other Chinese CCTV companies (including Hikvision, Megvii and SenseTime) with identical ethnicity detection features like that of Tiandy have been sanctioned by the US OFAC department prior, albeit on the Non-SDN list, which literally refers to partially blocked entities.
Earlier in 2019, Chinese surveillance company SenseNets, which is a part of China’s infamous ‘SkyNet Project’, was cross-questioned by a bunch of international media organisations and human rights groups regarding its unprotected facial recognition database capturing citizens’ faces along with their ethnicity and ID card details among other things, fully accessible to just anyone.
The issue was first addressed by Victor Gevers, co-founder of FDI foundation, in a tweet which interestingly included the mention of Tiandy’s publicly accessible live video feeds around Uyghur re-education camps.
“The fact that most CCTV systems are accessible on the internet with the footage often residing in servers of companies, both inside and outside India, is a cause for concern. In the absence of a data protection law, citizens do not have much protection against misuse of this data. This data could also be misused by government agencies in the absence of a proper rights-respecting statutory framework”, commented Prasanth Sugathan, the legal director of Software Freedom Law Center, on the ramifications of Chinese CCTV products being operated in India.
In April this year, India Today published a story on a US-based cyber security group alleging CCP-linked cyber groups to be using compromised cameras so as to snoop into India’s power grids.
In the present context, as the number of Iranian protesters surge, people around the world are in sheer anguish about what will come out of the over-the-top surveillance being conducted by the Iranian government, creating a database of thousands of faces which could be detained possibly for no good reason, more so when Tiandy is one of the operators in the Iranian realm.
While the presence of Tiandy hosts in Taiwan just after China, as can be viewed from the threat hunting platform’s search results, also raises alarm especially when the situation is tense between the two Asian nations.