Huawei knows everything about cameras in Belgrade – and they are glad to share!

EDIT (30th March, 2019, 9:29h): Not long after this text had been published, case study about cameras for video surveillance in Belgrade was removed from the official website of Huawei. You can read the archived version of the case study at the following link:

New generation surveillance cameras have already been installed in Belgrade, as stated in a case study published on the official website of Huawei.

Unlike the Ministry of Interior, whose representatives gave unclear and contradictory statements, to finally refuse a freedom of information request from SHARE Foundation, Huawei published a case study on their company website with detailed information about the installation of cameras for video surveillance in Belgrade and cooperation with the Ministry of Interior of Serbia (MOI).

The case study represents a detailed description of cooperation between Huawei and MOI, which largely contradicts information provided by the Ministry of Interior.

In the beginning, Huawei states that thanks to advanced video surveillance technology, the suspect who fled to China after causing a car accident with fatal consequences in 2015, better known as the “Countryman case” in Serbian public, was apprehended only three days after his photo was received from MOI of Serbia. Thanks to this rapid arrest, the Ministry of Interior initiated cooperation with Huawei through the “Safe Society” project, with the goal to install an advanced video surveillance system in Serbia. The company also points out that it has offered Intelligent Video Surveillance (IVS) systems, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), eLTE broadband trunking technology, unified data centers, and converged command centers to the MOI. It also says that in the beginning, 9 test cameras have been installed in 5 locations, including the MOI headquarters, a sports arena, a commercial center, and a police station. Huawei states that in the first phase, cameras have successfully performed several functions, such as video retrieval, video compression, automatic license plate recognition, behavior analysis, facial recognition, and video quality diagnosis. After a successful test phase, a Strategic Partnership Agreement was achieved in 2017.

In the first phase of the project, 100 high-definition video cameras were installed in more than 60 key locations and the command and data center in Belgrade was remodeled, as pointed out in Huawei’s study. Also, a large number of advanced technologies and products were used, including infrared license plate recognition, 4k video solutions, H.265 HD encoding, cloud-based cluster networking and SafeVideo to ensure data security and virtual checkpoint system.

It should be noted that Huawei had stated that video materials and received data are kept on an advanced storage device called “OceanStore”, which provides a number of options, such as data analysis and big data analysis, and retention period of received data is limited to one year.

In the end, it is said that thanks to realisation of Phase 1, which had been implemented more than five months before the study case was published, many criminals cases were solved, and that the police is now able to find suspects based on the stored video materials thanks to Huawei intelligent technology. As Huawei stated, the Ministry of Interior will develop a comprehensive “Safe City” solution, which will cover the whole Belgrade area in the beginning, while the final goal is to implement such a solution on the whole territory of Serbia.

Finally, the most important question for the citizens of Serbia concerns possible consequences to their privacy, and also the reliability of this technology. It is important to underline that smart technologies which use cameras for video surveillance, like facial recognition and behaviour analysis, represent very intrusive methods for citizen’s privacy, while on the other hand, they are not completely reliable. The technology which may lead to serious personal data abuse is used for storage of data collected by video surveillance. For keeping data in a one year period on the “OceanStore” device, of crucial importance is to establish transparency as to who exactly can access the data, in which cases and so on, because on the contrary, huge amounts of personal information of Serbian citizens may be the target of different abuses. 

As it is publicly known, the Minister of Interior announced the gradual installation of 1000 cameras in 800 locations during the next two years, and the Police Director explained that the future locations of stationary cameras were already known, and that before choosing the locations “significant research and analysis of events were made, foremost on the crimes on the territory of Belgrade”. However, in the reply to our FOI request, MOI stated that “the significant research and analysis” actually didn’t exist. On the other hand, by reading the detailed Huawei case study, it is possible to find information which may provide a better picture about what is actually happening with the process of installing cameras in Belgrade. 

It is very concerning that we can hear completely different information from many different sides about questions that concern constitutional civil rights and freedoms of citizens of Serbia. We believe that relevant actors have to come out to the citizens with accurate and complete information, and to provide the explanation to the public how will a private company be able to access their personal data, in which cases and, most importantly, why weren’t information about cooperation with Huawei available to citizens in the initial phase of the project.