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Massive Chinese firm is selling surveillance tech to Iran

CBP’s Autonomous Surveillance Towers (AST) system. (CBP photo/Released)
December 17, 2021

A massive Chinese tech company is selling surveillance equipment to Iran for use in the nation’s Revolutionary Guard, law enforcement and military, a report by IPVM revealed last week.

One of the biggest video surveillance companies in the world, Tiandy sells cameras and software, including facial recognition technology, software that the firm says can identify a person’s race, and “smart” interrogation technology linked to “tiger chairs,” which have been documented as tools for torture.

Tiandy technology has been condemned as unethical in the past, including its “ethnicity tracking” tool, which is believed to be used by the Communist Chinese Party to repress Uyghur minorities in the Xinjiang province.

According to the report, Tiandy signed a five-year contract with Iran and the tech firm plans to have eight staff members in the Middle Eastern nation.  

The exact details of the agreement are uncertain, but IPVM identified Tiandy cameras already in use by the Iranian company Sairan, a “state-owned military electronics provider.” Tiandy also promotes multiple projects in Iran, including efforts with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, as well as the police in the city of Khomam.

The Chinese tech company’s networked video recorders are also in use by the Iranian military, according to the report, which could be a violation of US sanctions on Iran.

Penny Bruce, an Intel spokesperson, told MIT Technology Review, “We have no knowledge of the allegations raised, and we are investigating the situation,” according to Technology Review.

Iran has been following China’s lead in the tech industry for years, and experts believe Iran is trying to build a system of technological control over its citizens. Saeid Golkar, an expert on Iranian security and a professor at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, said censorship and surveillance are important aspects of digital control.

“The Islamic Republic is trying to create an internet like China, creating massive connectivity and then controlling it,” he said.

Iran has already implemented the Chinese “social credit” system, which scores citizens based on their financial, civic and social activities.  

“As Iran becomes more digitized, I’m sure that we will see more digital forms of oppression and surveillance,” Golkar said.

“Authoritarian regimes are following China, because China is running this game,” he added. “Everything that China does, they will buy it or they will try to duplicate it.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Commerce said it suspects a Chinese military academy and eleven of its associated research institutes are developing technology to support the Chinese military, including brain-control weaponry.