Amazon buying heat-sensing cameras from Chinese firm blacklisted by US over alleged Uighur muslim treatment

Deal is legal because rules only control US government contracts and not private sector

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Wednesday 29 April 2020 20:49 BST
Jeff Bezos tours Amazon fulfillment centre

Amazon has reportedly bought heat-sensing cameras to detect possible coronavirus infections among its workforce from a Chinese firm blacklisted by the US.

Zhejiang Dahua Technology Company is said to have helped China detain and monitor the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.

Reuters reports that the company shopped 1,500 cameras to Amazon this month in a deal valued at close to $10m. One third of the cameras are destined for Amazon locations in the US.

The deal is legal because the rules only control US government contract awards and exports to blacklisted firms and do not apply to the private sector.

However, the US government red flags such transactions and advise that companies proceed with caution.

A statement from Amazon reads: “We are now implementing the use of thermal imagers from multiple manufacturers for temperature screening to create a more streamlined experience for our employees. None of this equipment has network connectivity, and no personal identifiable information will be visible, collected, or stored.”

Dahua, one of the largest manufacturers of surveillance cameras in the world, disputes its designation as a blacklisted company saying that it lacks “any factual basis.”

In a statement, the company said it is committed “to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19” through technology that detects “abnormal elevated skin temperature — with high accuracy.”

Thermal cameras made by Dahua have been used in hospitals, airports, train stations, government offices and factories during the pandemic. IBM has also placed an order for 100 units, and Chrysler ordered 10, a source told Reuters. The company also makes white-label security cameras on behalf of other brands.

The Trump administration blacklisted Dahua and seven other technology firms for acting against US foreign policy interests, saying that they were “implicated” in “China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.”

More than one million people have been sent to camps in the Xinjiang region as part of China’s campaign to root out terrorism, the United Nations estimates.

Amazon is using a variety of hardware from individual temperature checks using hand-held thermometers to thermal imaging for high-traffic areas, depending on the location.

The company stresses that the hardware and technology are in compliance with local state and national laws.We are not using facial recognition on any of the thermal imaging equipment.

With reporting from Reuters

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