Will smart cities in Belt and Road Initiative bring Xinjiang-style facial recognition to other countries?
Much of the digital security apparatus operated in Xinjiang by China’s government, including biometric facial recognition, is making its way into cities in Pakistan as part of “smart city” or “safe city” projects as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), writes The Interpreter.
The CPEC is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which now includes more than 3,000 projects, 60 percent of which have begun. Agreements have been signed by 126 countries and 29 international organizations.
Islamabad, Peshawar, Lahore, Quetta, Karachi and Gwadar have all implemented Chinese smart city technology. Lahore installed Huawei’s technology for its project, which includes 8,000 CCTV cameras with facial recognition, automated vehicle license plate recognition and multiple tracking options. A fiber-optic cable between the two countries is being built, and Pakistan is reported to be considering Chinese-style internet regulations and a national firewall to control its online environment more like China does.
The report also notes CloudWalk’s smart city projects in Zimbabwe as a potential foothold in Africa. CloudWalk will get face biometric data on citizens of the country to improve its algorithms.
Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Transsion is the top-selling smartphone maker on the continent, and its phones have cameras with exposure setting optimized for darker skin to provide better capture of facial details, according to the report.
While increased stability and reduced crime in the cities signed up to deploy Chinese smart city technologies, The Interpreter warns that the Belt and Road may resemble Xinjiang.
Zimbabwe’s The Standard reports that the government is planning to link the proposed National Data Center with databases from key economic players and government institutions as part of its smart city preparations.
The government says this is a necessary part of the ambitious Smart Zimbabwe project, but the increased cache of citizens’ personal data has raised privacy concerns, and the publication suggests that the country is following China’s security model, with weak data protection laws enabling authorities to link disparate sources of information with surveillance systems.
Telecommunications details from three activists who claim to have been abducted and tortured highlight the fears of the surveillance system being used to crack down on political opposition and dissent.
Banks are already benefiting from improved access to personal data, according to the report.