Exclusive: Myanmar junta deploys Chinese camera surveillance systems in more cities
SINGAPORE, July 11 (Reuters) – Myanmar’s junta government is installing Chinese-made cameras with facial recognition capabilities in more cities across the country, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said.
In the tenders for the purchase and installation of security cameras and facial recognition technology, the plans are described as safe city projects aimed at maintaining security and, in some cases, preserving the civil peace, said people who are or have been involved in the projects.
Since the February 2021 coup, local authorities have launched new camera surveillance projects for at least five cities including Moulmeine – the country’s fourth largest city, according to information from the three people who asked not to be identified. for fear of reprisals from the junta.
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The new projects add to five cities where camera systems touted as crime prevention measures were installed or planned by the previous government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, according to local sources and media.
A spokesman for the junta did not respond to calls from Reuters seeking comment. None of the 10 municipal governments, all of which are controlled by the junta, responded to calls seeking comment. Reuters was unable to review tenders or visit cities to verify camera installations.
The junta is planning camera surveillance systems for towns in each of Myanmar’s seven states and seven regions, said one of the sources who was briefed on the junta’s plans twice by different people.
The extent of the junta’s efforts to deploy camera surveillance systems has not previously been reported.
The tenders were won by local supply companies, including Fisca Security & Communication and Naung Yoe Technologies Co, the three sources said. The companies are sourcing the cameras and some related technology from Chinese surveillance giants Zhejiang Dahua Technology (002236.SZ) (Dahua), Huawei Technologies Co Ltd (HWT.UL) and Hikvision (002415.SZ), the three added. sources.
Fisca and Naung Yoe, both based in Yangon, did not respond to requests for comment.
Huawei and Dahua did not respond to Reuters requests for comment. Hikvision said in a statement that it has never sold directly to Myanmar government authorities and that its customers in overseas markets are distributors and integrators. He also said he did not sell facial recognition technology in the country.
Hikvision did not respond to questions about whether it was aware of any instances where its hardware capable of running facial recognition software had been sold in Myanmar.
The three sources also said Myanmar sourcing companies that have won tenders sometimes use facial recognition software developed by local and regional companies because Chinese software licenses are expensive. They did not name the software vendors.
Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) or CCTV systems are used by many cities around the world to deter crime. Increasingly controversial facial recognition software is also being used, with the technology gaining traction in the United States for law enforcement purposes. Some sophisticated systems, such as those used in Chinese cities, use artificial intelligence to match real-time images of people against a database of images. Read more
People with direct knowledge of Myanmar’s plans and human rights groups said they fear the new plans could be used to crack down on militants and resistance groups, both of which have been designated as terrorists by the junta in following his coup.
They were unable to provide evidence of the junta’s intentions.
“Surveillance cameras pose a serious risk to (Myanmar’s) democracy activists because the military and police can use them to track their movements, link activists, identify shelters and other gathering places. , and recognize and intercept cars and motorcycles used by activists,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement to Reuters.
Myanmar’s junta is engaged in widespread surveillance. It has installed interceptor spyware at telecommunications and internet providers to eavesdrop on its citizens’ communications and deployed “information combat” units to monitor and attack dissidents online, Reuters reported. Read more
The army has officers dedicated to analyzing surveillance camera feeds, Nyi Thuta, a former captain who left the army in late February 2021, told Reuters. He said he was unaware of the number of officers assigned to the job, but described visiting CCTV control rooms staffed by soldiers in the capital Naypyidaw. Reuters was unable to independently verify this, and the junta’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Moulmeine issued a tender for a camera surveillance system shortly after the coup, according to the three sources. The towns of Taunggyi and Dawei followed in the months that followed, two of them said.
Mawlamyine’s tender was jointly won by Fisca and Naung Yoe, the two sources said. Tenders for Dawei and Taunggyi went to Fisca, a source said, adding that each city has seen hundreds of Dahua cameras installed this year.
In Mawlamyine, there are now over 200 Dahua cameras and more are to be installed, another source said.
Dahua cameras were installed this year in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin, an area of ethnic unrest, a source said, adding that the Hpa-an city government had started preliminary discussions on a camera system.
Prior to the coup, Suu Kyi’s government installed CCTV cameras in Myanmar’s largest city Naypyidaw and Yangon, while the city of Mandalay also signed a deal for a camera surveillance system with Huawei. , according to local media and two sources.
Huawei cameras were combined with facial recognition software in Naypyidaw, a source said. In Yangon, the surveillance system consists of a Hikvision traffic control center and a mix of camera brands, another of the sources said.
Since the coup, the junta has asked Mandalay – Myanmar’s second largest city – to speed up the installation of cameras, two sources said. A source said at least 300 Huawei cameras had been installed before the coup, with hundreds more to come.
The city of Bagan – a historic tourist hub – also issued a tender for a camera surveillance system ahead of the coup, two sources said.
In Rakhine State, where the military is fighting an ethnic armed group, CCTV systems equipped with Huawei cameras have been deployed by Myanmar security forces since 2019 in Sittwe town and some villages, a source said.
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Reporting by Fanny Potkin; Additional reporting by David Kirton in Shenzhen, Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Poppy McPherson in Bangkok; Editing by Edwina Gibbs
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