Chinese security cameras with facial recognition technology are being set up across more cities in Myanmar by its military government, three sources have revealed.
Representatives of the surveillance roll-out have said it is for the safety and security of Myanmar citizens, but military leaders are probably also keen to deter attacks in urban areas by anti-junta groups as civil strife intensifies all across the country.
Local authorities have started new camera surveillance projects in at least five cities since the coup in February 2021, according to information from the three people, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals by the junta.
These projects were touted as crime prevention measures and either installed or planned by the previous government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, according to the sources and local media.
The junta is planning camera surveillance systems for cities in each of Myanmar’s seven states and seven regions, said one of the sources, who was briefed on the junta’s plans on two occasions by different people.
The tenders have been won by local procurement firms including Fisca Security & Communication and Naung Yoe Technologies Co, the three sources said. The firms source the cameras and some related technology from Chinese surveillance giants Zhejiang Dahua Technology (Dahua), Huawei Technologies and Hikvision, the three sources added.
Hikvision said in a statement it has never sold directly to Myanmar government authorities and its customers in overseas markets are distributors and integrators. It also said it had not sold facial recognition technology into the country.
The three sources also said Myanmar procurement firms that won the tenders sometimes use facial recognition software developed by local and regional companies as the Chinese software licences are costly. They did not name the software companies.
Officials in the southeastern city of Mawlamyine held a tender for a camera surveillance system shortly after the coup, according to the three sources. The cities of Taunggyi and Dawei followed in the months after, two of them said.
The Mawlamyine tender was jointly won by Fisca and Naung Yoe, the two sources said. The tenders for Dawei and Taunggyi went to Fisca, said one source, adding that each city has seen hundreds of Dahua cameras installed this year.
In Mawlamyine, there are now over 200 Dahua cameras and more are due to be installed, another of the sources said.
Dahua cameras were installed this year in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, a region of ethnic unrest in the far north, one source said, adding that the officials in Hpa-an city in the southeast had begun early discussions about a camera system.
Before the coup, Suu Kyi’s government installed CCTV cameras in Naypyidaw and Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, while the city of Mandalay had also inked an agreement for a camera surveillance system with Huawei, according to local media and two sources.
Huawei cameras were combined with facial recognition software in Naypyidaw, one source said. In Yangon, the surveillance system consists of a Hikvision traffic command centre and a mix of camera brands, another of the sources said.
Since the coup, the junta has told officials in Mandalay – Myanmar’s second-biggest city – to move more quickly on installing cameras, two sources said. One source said that at least 300 Huawei cameras were installed before the coup, but they are keen for hundreds more to be installed given serious civil unrest in many parts of the country.
- Reuters, with additional editing from Alfie Habershon