"Under President Xi Jinping," the New York Times said this week, "the Chinese government has vastly expanded domestic surveillance, fueling a new generation of companies that make sophisticated technology at ever lower prices. A global infrastructure initiative is spreading that technology even further."
The newspaper reported from Ecuador, on a surveillance system installed in 2011 that "is a basic version of a program of computerized controls that Beijing has spent billions to build out over a decade of technological progress. According to Ecuador’s government, these cameras feed footage to the police for manual review." The newspaper's investigation found that the "footage also goes to the country’s feared domestic intelligence agency, which under the previous president, Rafael Correa, had a lengthy track record of following, intimidating and attacking political opponents."
"Ecuador’s system," the New York Times said, "is called ECU-911 [and] was largely made by two Chinese companies, the state-controlled C.E.I.E.C. and Huawei." In a statement, Huawei told the newspaper that the company "provides technology to support smart city and safe city programs across the world. In each case, Huawei does not get involved in setting public policy in terms of how that technology is used."
Meanwhile, an article in Newsweek focused on the development of AI-based surveillance, often with U.S. investment and collaboration, including engagement with the likes of Microsoft, Google and major U.S. universities. "In states with unaccountable institutions and frequent human rights abuses," Newsweek reported, "AI systems will most likely cause greater damage. China is a prominent example. Its leadership has enthusiastically embraced AI technologies, and has set up the world’s most sophisticated surveillance state in Xinjiang province, tracking citizens’ daily movements and smartphone use."
The article explained that "Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE are constructing smart cities in Pakistan, the Philippines and Kenya, featuring extensive built-in surveillance technology," and although "selling advanced equipment for profit is different than sharing technology with an express geopolitical purpose, these new capabilities may plant the seeds for global surveillance: As governments become increasingly dependent upon Chinese technology to manage their populations and maintain power, they will face greater pressure to align with China’s agenda."
Earlier this month, ZDNet reported that "Serbia wants to use technology to improve public safety in its capital, Belgrade. To that end, it has decided to implement Huawei's Safe City Solution – a surveillance system that includes the installation of thousands of security cameras." Huawei produced a case study on Serbia, which, according to ZDNet "mysteriously disappeared" when they started asking questions. In that case study, Huawei claimed to be "the only vendor that can provide such a comprehensive safe city solution. To date, Huawei has deployed Safe City systems in 230 cities for more than 90 national or regional governments."