Hundreds of Huawei CCTV cameras with facial recognition go live in Naypyitaw

A system of 335 surveillance cameras with facial recognition technology made by the Chinese tech giant Huawei went live across Naypyitaw on Monday, at a cost of more than 4bn kyat ($2.9m).

The cameras cover eight townships in the capital with artificial intelligence that can also scan vehicles’ number plates, said Myint Swe, the top advisor for the Naypyitaw Safe City project.

“Anyone with a criminal history entering Naypyitaw will be recognised. The system is able to detect and find that person,” he told Myanmar Now. “The other thing is being able to determine where a car has been just by looking at its plate number.”

Most of the equipment used was made by Huawei, he said. 

Naypyitaw Council called for tenders last year for the project and twelve companies took part in the bid. The Naypyitaw-based Linn IT Solution won the right to build the control centre, while Naung Yoe was chosen to install the cameras and communication cables.

The owner of Linn IT Solution, Nay Lin Htike, last year donated a clock tower to the Naypyitaw Development Committee that was built at a prominent location near the Tha Pyay Gone roundabout.

The two companies could not immediately be reached for comment.

Myint Swe said the system was secure from hackers. “We’ve been careful with the system. We bought a firewall ourselves and it was quite costly,” he said. 

“But the good thing is if something happens, it’s the companies’ responsibility and there’s no need for concern,” he said.

A spokesperson for Huawei declined to comment on the grounds that the company did not win the tender itself. 

The police are operating the control centre in Naypyitaw under the management of a group led by the chair of the Naypyitaw Council, Dr Myo Aung, said Myint Swe. 

Naypyitaw Council said the system would help maintain rule of law, regional peace, and traffic safety.

In 2017 Aung Win Khaing, one of the plotters in the assassiantion of government legal advisor Ko Ni, managed to escape arrest after last being spotted in Naypyitaw. Police blamed a CCTV error for their failure to catch him. 

Nay La, a lawyer for Ko Ni’s family, said the police gave the excuse that CCTV footage that could have helped locate Aung Win Khaing was difficult to recover as the system deleted footage after six days.

The new system keeps footage for sixty days, said Myint Swe.

Magwe region chief minister Dr Aung Moe Nyo arrives at the CCTV control center in Naypyitaw (Myint Swe/Facebook)

Last week Mandalay’s electricity, energy and construction minister, Zarni Aung, told Myanmar Now that a contract has been signed with Huawei to install CCTV cameras in Mandalay for the Mandalay Safe City project.

The 2bn kyat project will cover three of the city’s seven townships and use the same facial recognition technology as the Naypyitaw project.

“The Mandalay government selected us because this Huawei system will improve the police task force’s capability and reduce crime rates,” said Zhou Kai, head of communication at Huawei Myanmar.

Last year Huawei was banned from doing business with any company that operates in the US. Then in September this year all non-US suppliers were banned from shipping to Huawei if their products contained US technology. 

The ban followed concerns that the Chinese government may use Huawei networks in the US to gather data, while Huawei said it was brought in because US companies had fallen behind. 

Last week the Washington Post reported that Huawei had worked on facial recognition technology to help the Chinese government identify members of the persecuted Uighur minority.  

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