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Date:05/07/11

Cisco Poised to Help China Keep an Eye on Its Citizens

Western companies including Cisco Systems Inc. are poised to help build an ambitious new surveillance project in China—a citywide network of as many as 500,000 cameras that officials say will prevent crime but that human-rights advocates warn could target political dissent.The system, being built in the city of Chongqing over the next two to three years, is among the largest and most sophisticated video-surveillance projects of its kind in China, and perhaps the world. Dubbed "Peaceful Chongqing," it is planned to cover a half-million intersections, neighborhoods and parks over nearly 400 square miles, an area more than 25% larger than New York City.
The project sheds light on how Western tech companies sell their wares in China, the Middle East and other places where there is potential for the gear to be used for political purposes and not just safety. The products range from Internet-censoring software to sophisticated networking gear. China in particular has drawn criticism for treating political dissent as a crime and has a track record of using technology to suppress it.An examination of the Peaceful Chongqing project by The Wall Street Journal shows Cisco is expected to supply networking equipment that is essential to operating large and complicated surveillance systems, according to people familiar with the deal. The U.S. has prohibited export of crime-control products to China (for instance, fingerprinting equipment) ever since Beijing's deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. But the U.S. restrictions don't prohibit sale of technologies such as cameras that can be used in many ways—to tame, say, either traffic jams or democracy marches. This loophole troubles some critics. There is no indication that Cisco is selling products customized for crime control.
Chongqing's party chief, Bo Xilai, led a controversial crime crackdown. Chongqing's government has said it plans to invest more than $800 million of its own in building the Peaceful Chongqing system. Another $1.6 billion is coming from other, unspecified sources, the city has said. Hikvision's president, Hu Yangzhong, said in an interview that government funds would go toward building the central surveillance network and installing a portion of the cameras, while more cameras would be installed by owners of residences, office buildings and others—all of which would be linked to the network.
Video-surveillance systems can serve many purposes and are routinely used for benign purposes by cities world-wide to fight crime and ease traffic. Still, civil libertarians raise concerns including in the U.S. that the technology can invade privacy and is poorly regulated.
Human-rights advocates say Chinese police have used surveillance footage to identify people in political protests. Jailed Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei, who was released last month, complained before he was apprehended on April 3 that police were using cameras to monitor him.
Corinna-Barbara Francis, a researcher at Amnesty International, said surveillance footage has been used to identify and apprehend peaceful protesters in China, including in Xinjiang and Tibet. "In China there's ample evidence that they use" video surveillance "to crack down and then criminalize activity which should not be criminalized," Ms. Francis said.



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