After a Wall Street Journal article last week reported that Huawei employees in Uganda had helped government officials spy on their political opponents, Ugandan police have confirmed that Huawei is rolling out a “safe city” surveillance system in the country. The technology uses facial recognition and other artificial intelligence systems.
Police spokesperson Fred Enanga denied that the police force was using Huawei’s technology to monitor opposition figures, but he confirmed that a new surveillance system was being deployed throughout the country, according to The Financial Times.
As part of the safe city project, Uganda is installing Huawei closed-circuit television cameras. The installation is already about 85% complete in the capital city of Kampala. The cameras work in conjunction with Huawei’s facial recognition software to identify people with remarkable accuracy.
“We would like the public to know that the [Ugandan Police Force] has an existing contract with Huawei to install CCTV cameras country-wide as a measure to strengthen law and order,” Enanga said in a statement. “The cameras are already transforming modern day policing in Uganda, with facial recognition and artificial intelligence as part of policing and security.”
Huawei is proud of its facial recognition technology, spinning it as a way to detect and deter criminals and solve crime cases. The Chinese firm’s safe city technology has been rolled out in more than 230 cities around the world, according to its website. In the African country of Kenya, Huawei’s cameras are ubiquitous in the capital city of Nairobi, perched on lampposts at most intersections, according to the Financial Times.
Huawei says that its safe city technology in Kenya was used in 2015 when Pope Francis visited the country. “In a 0.12-square-kilometer place with more than 300,000 people and 10,000 police officers, the solution ensured zero incidents and complaints,” claims Huawei.
Of course, privacy advocates worry about a darker side to facial recognition technology and other artificial intelligence software that can be exploited by corrupt governments and police departments to quash individual freedom.