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At least three European companies, based in the Netherlands, Sweden and France, sold advanced surveillance technology to Chinese security services, Amnesty International announced based on its own research. According to the human rights organization, these companies are at great risk of contributing to human rights violations, NOS reports.

The Dutch company involved is Noldus Information Technology from Wageningen. According to Amnesty International, it sold emotion-recognition systems to agencies that are affiliated with Chinese public safety and law enforcement organizations. Noldus could give no clear answer on what research it did to make sure its systems would not be abused before selling them, Amnesty International said.

A system for analyzing facial expressions like the one Noldus developed was found to be used at a number of Chinese universities associated with the police and public security organizations. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security also uses the software to investigate the behavior of persons suspected of corruption, the human rights organization said.

This form of export to China is currently not prohibited by law. Amnesty International wants to change that, calling for European rules to be implemented so that there is control on the export of software in the field of emotion and ethnicity recognition. The organization wants facial recognition software to be banned completely, according to the broadcaster.

Noldus told NOS in response that its products do not pose a risk to human rights and meet all ethical standards. The software it makes is not surveillance technology, but only intended for behavioral research, Lucas Noldus, director of Noldus Information Technology, said to the broadcaster. The Chinese universities in question bought the software for scientific research for which the participants must always give their consent, Noldus said.

“I am very surprised by Amnesty’s investigation,” Noldus said. “The main misunderstanding is that my company makes surveillance systems. We make software for scientific research and human behavior that is used worldwide by psychologists, ergonomists and consumer scientists. The research is subject to ethical testing. We’ve been developing products like this for 30 years.”

According to Noldus, his company’s software cannot be abused in the way Amnesty International claims. “It is technically impossible to scale up that software to surveillance software in public spaces. You cannot violate human rights with a product that records behavior on a computer based on four recordings.”