As hundreds of video cameras began appearing in the streets of Belgrade as part of a major surveillance program with the ability to identify and monitor individuals, many demonstrators began to have second thoughts about joining anti-government protests in the Serbian capital.
Local authorities say that the system created by Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications company, helps to reduce crime by 2 million in the region. Critics argue that it erodes personal freedoms, leaves political opponents vulnerable to prosecution, and even exposes the Chinese government’s people to snooping.
Equipped with facial recognition technology, the cameras are being rolled out in hundreds of cities around the world, especially in poorer countries with weak human rights records where Beijing has increased its influence through large business deals.
With the U.S. claiming that Chinese state authorities can access Huawei data backdoor, the aggressive rollout raises concerns about the privacy of millions of people in countries with little power to stand up to China.
“The system can be used to trail political opponents, monitor regime critics at any time, which is entirely against the law,” Serbian former data protection commissioner Rodoljub Sabic said.
Groups opposed to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic say police were releasing footage of pro-government media demonstrations posting the photos along with participants ‘ identities.Protesters scaled a pole during a recent rally, covering a camera lens with duct tape scrawled with the phrase “censored.”
Serbia’s police deny any such abuse of the Huawei system that will eventually include 1,000 cameras at 800 locations across Belgrade. In a statement, Huawei said that it “complies with all applicable laws and regulations” in Serbia and that it does business anywhere else.
Although facial recognition technology is being introduced in many countries, the Huawei system has gained extra attention because of allegations that Chinese laws requiring companies to assist in national intelligence research allow authorities access to their data.
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