Philippines stalls Chinese bid for surveillance system

Philippines stalls Chinese bid for surveillance system

FORUM Staff

Philippine lawmakers in February 2019 blocked funding of a video surveillance project that would use Chinese technology products and launched an inquiry into its national security risks, according toThe Wall Street Journalnewspaper. Opponents said the project could enable the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to spy on the Philippines.

“All over the world, there is concern about Chinese technology, about spying and data security,” Philippine Sen. Ralph Recto, who authored the resolution, told The Wall Street Journal. “If we really need a surveillance system, could we not do it without China?”

Recto said the project adds to worry over the PRC’s claims in the South China Sea, which the Philippines disputes, according to the inquirer.net, the website of the English-language newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

During national budget deliberations in December 2018, Recto voiced concerns about the U.S. $400 million deal, known as the “Safe Philippines” project. It wassigned by the Philippine Department of the Interior and Local Governments and the China International Telecommunications and Construction Corp. (CITCC) during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s November 2018 visit,The Philippine Starnewspaper reported.

Huawei Technologies, which would provide components to CITCC in the deal, has embedded spyware in hardware and operating systems installed in other countries. As a result, in 2018 the U.S. banned products from Huawei and some other Chinese companies, such as ZTE, for government use. Australia and New Zealand also banned them for specific networks. The CITCC is also affiliated with the state-run China Telecommunications Corp., a partner of Mislatel Consortium, which will build a major telecommunications system for the Philippines, the inquirer.net reported. Huawei is likely to be involved in this 5G network as well, The Wall Street Journalreported.

The Safe Philippines project would set up 12,000 closed circuit TV cameras in Manila and Davao, President Rodrigo Duterte’s native city,over the next 2.5 years at such sites as public squares, intersections, business districts, technology parks, residential areas and stadiums, various media reported. The video would be coupled with face-recognition software and various data records and analysis tools to combat crime.

CITCC claims the project “guarantees citizens’ good living and social economic stability for growth,” according to The Philippine Star. Philippine Sen. Loren Legarda said the project strives to reduce crime by 15 percent and shorten response times by 25 percent, the inquirer.net reported.

Opponents, however, worry how the information will be used. “China will have access on surveillance, PNP [Philippine National Police] database, [and other] big data on Filipinos, and we will be paying for it. Crazy,” Recto said in a text message in December 2018, according to the inquirer.net website.

“As more of the world’s critical telecommunications infrastructure is built by China, global data may become more accessible to Chinese intelligence agencies through both legal and extralegal methods,” a recent report by the U.S.-funded, nongovernmental organization Freedom House, titled “Freedom on the Net 2018,” found. In January 2018, for example, African Union (AU) security staff reported that their computer systems had been sending confidential data back daily to Shanghai for five years. China spent U.S. $200 million constructing the AU’s new headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, including its computer network, the report said.

Others fear that the PRC could eventually install a “social credit system” in the Philippines similar to what it is using on its own citizens, according to a December 2018 report by rappler.com, an online news site based in the Philippines, because the proposed technology uses the same surveillance infrastructure. (Pictured: A surveillance camera hangs next to a Huawei sign outside a Beijing shopping mall in January 2019).

CITCC will finance 80 percent of the project, leaving the Philippine government to fund about U.S. $80 million, which Recto’s February resolution effectively blocked. President Duterte can veto the legislation to enable the deal to go forward, The Wall Street Journalreported.

Recto also expressed concern in December 2018 that such Chinese-backed loans could be unfavorable to the Philippines because the deal is commercial in nature, according to The Philippine Star.

Chinese companies have installed internet and mobile network equipment in at least 38 countries worldwide, including Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria and Pakistan, the Freedom House report found. In a growing number of countries, Chinese firms such as Huawei and CloudWalk are also installing networked surveillance systems that combine artificial intelligence and facial recognition to identify threats to “public order.”

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