The United States has traditionally positioned itself as a champion of human rights around the world, speaking out for dissidents and minorities in Syria, China, Russia and Iran. The US government has frequently employed restrictions or bans on the sale of arms and other equipment used as instruments of subjugation.
Recently, the US sanctioned Chinese firms that produce and sell surveillance technology used to help screen and detain Uighur Muslims, banning federal entities from purchasing video surveillance equipment produced by Hikvision, Dahua and Hytera Communications. Hikvision and Dahua were also placed on a government blacklist that prohibits US-based companies from exporting products to the listed businesses.
Contradictory track record
China’s treatment of Uighurs deserves severe international condemnation - but were the US government’s motives really altruistic? President Donald Trump’s administration is locked in a bitter trade war with China, and many of the business interests that have his ear believe security systems in the US are too reliant on Chinese surveillance products.
But perhaps the best evidence that US foreign policy is not guided by concern for human rights is its highly inconsistent and frequently contradictory track record elsewhere around the world. Consider, for one, the lack of action when it comes to technology companies that produce munitions and surveillance equipment used by the Israeli government to repress, abuse and even kill Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians in these territories live in an oppressive limbo, with no nation of their own and no ultimate power over their lives. Israeli forces regularly confiscate private land; imprison people, including children, without due process; physically abuse detainees; demolish family homes; bulldoze orchards and crops; place entire towns under curfew; destroy shops and businesses; and shoot, maim and kill civilians.
Enabling this matrix of control is a plethora of technologies, including phone and internet monitoring, CCTV systems and biometric data collection, which have enabled Israel to surveil the Palestinian population on a massive, intrusive scale.
US foreign aid to Israel
Despite this persecution, which is at least as visible and long-running as China’s treatment of Uighurs, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War Two - more than $142bn, almost all in the form of military assistance, including support of surveillance activities.
At the same time, US companies are allowed to actively profit from Israeli oppression. Just last month, software giant Microsoft was reported to have invested in a startup that uses facial recognition to surveil Palestinians throughout the occupied West Bank, despite the company’s public pledge to avoid technology that curtails democratic freedoms.