China’s use of technology to monitor and control its population, predominantly the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, has drawn widespread condemnation from human rights groups and Western governments. But what is less known is how Western tech companies, including some that work with the U.S. defense and intelligence sectors, have contributed to China’s surveillance state, either directly or indirectly, by providing products, services, or expertise that facilitate the development and deployment of privacy-invasive technologies.

According to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), at least 82 foreign and Chinese companies are involved in the supply chain of China’s surveillance system, which includes facial recognition cameras, biometric data collection devices, big data analysis platforms, and artificial intelligence software. Some of these companies are well-known global brands, including well-known U.S. corporations, which are named in the report but not identified here to avoid a conflict of interest, as well as Chinese corporations such as Huawei. Others are less familiar but still play a significant role in the industry, such as Hikvision, Dahua, Megvii, and SenseTime.

These companies have various degrees of involvement and awareness of how the Chinese authorities use their products or services. Some have directly supplied equipment or software to the police or security agencies in Xinjiang, where an estimated one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims are detained in re-education camps and subjected to pervasive surveillance and coercion. Others have partnered with Chinese companies or research institutions known to support the surveillance system or have invested in them. Still, others have provided general-purpose technologies that could be used for benign and malicious purposes without adequate oversight or safeguards.

Regardless of their intentions or knowledge, these companies are complicit in enabling China’s techno-authoritarianism, which violates the internationally recognized right to privacy and other fundamental freedoms. By providing China with the tools and capabilities to build and maintain its surveillance system, these companies are not only profiting from the oppression of the Uyghurs but also undermining the global norms and standards that protect human rights and democracy. They are also creating security risks for the United States and its allies. China could use the data and insights gained from its surveillance system to advance its military and geopolitical interests or sabotage or spy on Western networks and systems.

The U.S. government has taken some steps to address this issue, such as imposing sanctions and export restrictions on some Chinese companies and officials involved in the surveillance of the Uyghurs and urging American companies to exercise due diligence and human rights impact assessments when doing business with China. However, these measures are not enough to counter the scale and scope of China’s surveillance system, which is expanding both domestically and internationally as China exports its technologies and models to other authoritarian or developing countries.

The United States must adopt a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to challenge China’s techno-authoritarianism and offer an alternative vision that respects human rights and democratic values. This requires strengthening the legal and regulatory frameworks governing the export and use of surveillance technologies, reforming U.S. surveillance practices, protecting its citizens’ privacy and security, and working with its allies and partners to set rights-respecting global standards for tech companies. The United States should also support the development and deployment of technologies that empower and protect individuals and communities rather than those that enable and facilitate state control and repression.

China’s surveillance of the Uyghurs is not only a humanitarian crisis but also a strategic challenge for the United States and the free world. It is time for Western tech companies to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.

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Shane McNeil has a diverse career in the US Intelligence Community, serving in various roles in the military, as a contractor, and as a government civilian. His background includes several combat deployments and service in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), where he applied his skills in assignments such as Counterintelligence Agent, Analyst, and a senior instructor for the Joint Counterintelligence Training Activity. He is a Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholar and has a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology from the University of North Dakota. He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy degree in National Security Policy at Liberty University, studying the transformative impacts of ubiquitous technology on national defense. All articles written by Mr. McNeil are done in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Department of Defense, the Defense Intelligence Agency, or the United States government.