The demonstrators in Hong Kong who have been rallying indomitably for the full withdrawal of a proposed extradition bill, as well as those who ran afoul of the law throughout the many protests that ended in clashes with the police, now may have more to worry about.
This is because when the city’s masses took to the streets to express their opposition to an amendment bill to allow for the rendition of fugitives to mainland China, the army of CCTV cameras armed with facial-scanning and recognition and 30X zooming could have also been keeping closes tabs on anyone in protest hotspots in the city’s Admiralty and Central districts.
It is feared that those already in the government’s bad books, like the people who led the charges against police cordons in rowdy confrontations and even trashed the city’s legislature, could soon be nabbed and jailed, as they can never avoid the gaze of cameras in a “surveillance city.”
Hong Kong newspapers revealed that authorities had quietly added a new layer of cameras on the perimeter of the government headquarters complex in Admiralty, installing the same models from the Chinese video surveillance company Hikvision that are also in widespread use at numerous “re-education” and labor camps targeting Uighurs in Xinjiang.
The Hangzhou-based company is under the full glare of the West and may face sanctions by the US and Taiwan for allegations of doing Beijing’s bidding in the crackdown on ethnic minorities in the restive northwestern province.
The new Hikvision cameras found in Hong Kong are believed to be facial-recognition-enabled, judging from their models and specifications, and the key venues now under the watch of these cameras include the main entrances to the government headquarters and the chief executive’s office, as well as designated demonstration areas of the Legislative Council building, among others, according to the Apple Daily.
The pro-democracy broadsheet noted that the government started replacing devices from Pelco, a California-based security and surveillance technologies company, with Hikvision cameras after the end of the Occupy protests in 2014.
The new, versatile cameras from Hikvision feature “panorama, tilt and zoom” functions – 360-degree monitoring and 30X optical zooming – can recognize people’s faces, analyze biometrics and check against a database of wanted persons or dissidents simultaneously, and blare alarms when a fugitive is seen.
Moreover, the legions of similar cameras can talk to each other and share and crunch footage to track people and other moving objects over a wide area in real time. These eagle-eyed cameras can also record sounds.
Hikvision is under the umbrella of the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corp.
The Hong Kong government’s Administration Wing, however, stressed in a reply to media inquiries that the new cameras installed would not be used for facial-recognition or sound-recording.
A government spokesman also said that maintenance works were carried out to repair the security equipment, including CCTV, which was damaged on July 1 by protesters who did not want to be watched or filmed. He added that the CCTV cameras in question would have no facial-recognition function, nor would they have any audio function, either built-in or externally installed.
But the city’s pro-democracy lawmakers are pressing the government for more details about the new cameras and measures in place to prevent them from being used to spy on residents.