Facial recognition vendor Huawei digs deeper into strategic Serbia
Huawei‘s methodical investment, and alleged bribery, in Serbia continues to pay dividends. The strategic and historically restive east European nation plans to deploy 8,100 Huawei surveillance camera, mostly in the capitol Belgrade.
Ostensibly part of a larger smart city project, the cameras can be used for facial recognition.
It is just the latest in a commercial and political campaign started in 2005 to get Serbian leaders to buy and install critical new communications and surveillance systems.
Huawei’s growing influence in the country loosely tracks with that of two autocratic politicians who appear to have risen in tandem.
One, Aleksandar Vučić, leads Serbia as president. The other, Ivica Dačić, is president of the national assembly. Dačić is a protégé of Slobodan Milošević, the deceased Serbian leader in the 1990s who was indicted on charges of crimes against humanity.
The Trump administration had signed a toothless agreement with Vučić to dissuade him from buying advanced telecommunications, networking and AI products from “unverified” vendors — as close to a reference to Huawei as Vučić would allow.
Concerns have risen from the potential for the country’s powerful, including Vučić and Dačić, to use biometrics to track their political opposition and the rest of the public.
The country’s Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, Milan Marinovic, warned against the deployment, and said the decision to deploy cameras with facial recognition capabilities was “obviously a political” one, according to Balkan Insight.
Marinovic also says Serbia’s laws do not adequately address the risks associated with video surveillance.
Huawei has been particularly busy in the last three years in Serbia.
In September 2020, Balkan Insight reported on a 5G development center opened in Belgrade by Huawei.
In December 2020, Huawei signed a contract to use the nation’s state-owned data center with 1,200 rack rooms, the second company to do so after IBM.
Eight months later, reports surfaced that the Chinese company had used a shell company to channel more than $1.4 million worth of consulting fees, loans, contracts and even an apartment to a pair of men with close ties to Serbia’s state-owned telco.
According to Radio Free Europe, the payments (part of the leaked Pandora Papers) were offered to win Serbian contracts, and go back at least as far as 2007, when the telco was gearing up its influence campaign.