In the early part of last year The government of Bangladesh We began to weigh an offer from a Chinese company. to build a smart city on the Bay of Bengal with infrastructure enhanced by artificial intelligence. Construction of the high-tech metropolis has yet to begin, but if it proceeds it may include face recognition software that can use public cameras to identify missing persons or track criminals in a crowd—capabilities already standard in many Chinese cities.

According to, this project is among the ones that have made China the leader in exporting faces. An investigation Published last week by Brookings Institution, a well-respected think tank by Harvard and MIT academics. 

The report shows that Chinese companies have the highest exports of face recognition technology. This is followed by 128 US deals. China has also been a major exporter of AI overall, with 250 out 1 636 export deals that involved some form of AI to 136 importing nations. The US is the second-largest exporter, with 215 AI agreements. 

The report argues that these exports may enable other governments to perform more surveillance, potentially harming citizens’ human rights. “The fact that China is exporting to these countries may kind of flip them to become more autocratic, when in fact they could become more democratic,” Says Martin BerajaMIT economist, whose work focuses upon the relationship between new technologies such as AI, government policies and macroeconomics.

Face recognition technology can be used to unlock smartphones, authenticate in apps and find friends on social media. Researchers at MIT and Harvard focused their attention on deals involving smart city technology. This is where face recognition is used to enhance surveillance. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace provided information on global surveillance projects and data from Chinese AI firms.

Over the past few years, US presidents and legislators have expressed concern at China’s AI technology advancements. The report seems to show that there is already evidence of this shift. 

“It bolsters the case for why we need to be setting parameters around this type of technology,” Says Alexandra SeymourAssociate Fellow at the Center for New American Security, who studies the policy implications and AI.  

There is increasing bipartisan interest from the US to restrict Chinese technology globally. Under president Trump, the US government imposed rules designed to restrict the use of Huawei’s 5G technology in the US and elsewhere and took aim at China’s AI firms with a chip embargo. The Biden administration levied a more sweeping chip blockade that prevents Chinese companies accessing cutting edge chips or semiconductor manufacturing technology, and has Placed sanctions Chinese providers of face recognition used for monitoring Uyghur Muslims

Seymour suggests that sanctions could be used to punish countries who import face recognition technology from China as a way to further limit its export. However, she says that the US should also set an example for other countries in terms of regulating facial identification. 

The fact that the US is the world’s second largest exporter of face recognition technology risks undermining the idea—promoted by the US government—that American technology naturally embodies values of freedom and democracy.