After Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested, the Chinese telecoms giant’s close relationship with the Chinese Communist regime has been closely watched by the outside world. Recently, screenshots of information listed on Huawei’s official website have been circulating widely on Chinese social media in China, revealing that the company is deeply embedded in Beijing’s high-tech mass surveillance systems.
Though the screenshots show the Huawei official logo, the information does not appear to be readily viewable on Huawei’s website.
Instead, while navigating to webpages about specific Huawei projects, documents and proposals are only accessible by registering an account with the website and entering the login information.
It appears the screenshots circulating online were obtained in this method.
One document shows a client list for Huawei’s “video cloud storage project.” Of the 80 clients listed, over half are government authorities, such as local police, prisons, police academies, as well as state-owned enterprises and the Chinese Communist Party’s regional street offices—which are low-level Party organizations that monitor local residents’ activities to ensure they toe the Party line. All aforementioned entities are known to use video surveillance to monitor citizens.
Another webpage boasts of Huawei’s “active participation in the informatization of the public security system.” “Public security” is the name for China’s police force. The webpage explicitly states that Huawei is the “backbone” of the Golden Shield project: the formal name of China’s internet censorship apparatus.
The company also set up 30 “Safety City” programs across China. In Zhuhai City in southern Guangdong province, police have praised the program for helping it implement “cutting-edge surveillance sites.” Another “Safety City” is Karamay, a prefecture-level city in the north of Xinjiang. This far-western region, inhabited mostly by Uyghur ethnic Muslims, is currently being heavily suppressed by the Chinese regime.
According to the company’s own description, the project combines video surveillance with artificial intelligence and big data analysis to help law enforcement fight crime.
The Chinese regime is already known to have employed a mass network of AI-enhanced surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor citizens in real time. While Beijing claims the system can help catch criminals, critics warn of the complete deprivation of privacy. There are already documented cases of Chinese police using the surveillance system to locate dissidents and human rights activists.
The Safety City project appears to provide similar capabilities.
In April this year, internal company documents, dated from 2015, were leaked onto the internet. Titled “VCM Operation Guide,” the over-100-page document outlined a Video Content Management (VCM) system that Huawei has developed to assist police in real-time analysis and processing of video surveillance footage.
The main functions of VCM are: 1. collection of data recorded by multiple cameras within a locale onto a GIS (geographic information system) map 2. analysis and processing of data in the surveillance footage 3. building a profile of a suspect, then scouring surveillance footage to locate the suspect 4. automatically using facial recognition and photo-taking to locate individuals or transport vehicles that are on the authorities’ blacklist and automatically report the target’s location 5. using artificial intelligence to better recognize a target.
Annie Wu and Li Xinru contributed to this report.