A network of over 500,000 cameras designed for massive video surveillance across the Chinese city of Chongqing is in the works, according too the Wall Street Journal.
Several companies, including American-based Cisco Systems, will help the country build the system, which is called "Peaceful Chongqing" and is nominally meant to help prevent crime. However, the Journal reports that human rights activists are worried that the system, which will cover 400 square miles, could be capable of suppressing political dissident within the Chongqing municipality.
America banned export of crime-control products like the one being discussed after the violent protests in Tienanmen Square in 1989, but companies are still permitted to sell video devices that could be used in other ways. Over $800 million will go into the Chongqing network, with another $1.6 billion reportedly coming from unknown sources.
WSJ writes that there are no signs that Cisco's products are customized with the purpose of crime control. A Cisco spokesperson told the Journal that the company "hasn't sold video cameras or video-surveillance solutions in any of our public infrastructure projects in China."
Peaceful Chongqing is also said to have drawn other tech companies as bidders, like Hewlett-Packard and Intergraph. Critics maintain that while these companies claim to take the Chinese government at its word that it will not use such products for the purposes of crime control, that the true uses of these devices is more likely the identification and arrest of known political dissidents.
Fast Company points out that surveillance technology could be used not just for crime control, but to create a facial recognition system, eavesdropping on conversations, and more.
"There's a fine line between 'preventing crime,' using totally off-the-shelf Cisco gear, and re-purposing that same 'Peaceful Chongqing' network of cameras to spy on the population," FC wrote.
Earlier this year, Cisco was sued for allegedly helping the Chinese government track and suppress dissidents belonging to spiritual group Falun Gong.