Date: July 11 2019
By: Ryan Gallagher
Illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept
AN AMERICAN ORGANIZATION founded by tech giants Google and IBM is working with a company that is helping China’s authoritarian government conduct mass surveillance against its citizens, The Intercept can reveal.
The OpenPower Foundation — a nonprofit led by Google and IBM executives with the aim of trying to “drive innovation” — has set up a collaboration between IBM, Chinese company Semptian, and U.S. chip manufacturer Xilinx. Together, they have worked to advance a breed of microprocessors that enable computers to analyze vast amounts of data more efficiently.
Shenzhen-based Semptian is using the devices to enhance the capabilities of internet surveillance and censorship technology it provides to human rights-abusing security agencies in China, according to sources and documents. A company employee said that its technology is being used to covertly monitor the internet activity of 200 million people.
Semptian, Google, and Xilinx did not respond to requests for comment. The OpenPower Foundation said in a statement that it “does not become involved, or seek to be informed, about the individual business strategies, goals or activities of its members,” due to antitrust and competition laws. An IBM spokesperson said that his company “has not worked with Semptian on joint technology development,” but declined to answer further questions. A source familiar with Semptian’s operations said that Semptian had worked with IBM through a collaborative cloud platform called SuperVessel, which is maintained by an IBM research unit in China.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Intercept that he was alarmed by the revelations. “It’s disturbing to see that China has successfully recruited Western companies and researchers to assist them in their information control efforts,” Warner said.