EURACTIV: MEPs sound alarm over Chinese mass surveillance project in Belgrade

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MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield (Greens/EFA, France) has told the Brussels-based EURACTIV website earlier this week that the European Parliament is taking a close look at China's high-tech present to Serbia, a mass surveillance system that involves the installation of thousands of intelligent surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition features.

The website said that Serbia’s Government had been actively working on implementing the „Safe City“ surveillance project in Belgrade since 2019.

„Reportedly, the Serbian government has classified as confidential the surveillance project, implemented by the Chinese tech giant Huawei, and has avoided a public debate on its potential benefits and risks,“ it added.

Delbos-Corfield said that the agreement was „to have a camera at every corner of every street in Belgrade“. In her words, the goal was to have total control of the population and not to allow dissident voices, which has already been successfully tested in China.

According to EURACTIV, the system is widely used in China, while Europeans have serious concerns toward such an Orwellian novelty, stressing the need to first put in place a legislative framework that helps protect people’s privacy and guards against abuses.

„A facial recognition system is able to identify or verify a person from a digital image or a video, by comparing facial features from the image with those in a database.“

Asked if this move was not part of the „meeting of minds“ that coincides with the geopolitical rapprochement between President Aleksandar Vucic’s regime and communist China, Delbos-Corfield told EURACTIV that „we are still not aware of how this equipment was procured. Given that this is top-of-the-range technology, we are also not sure how it will be maintained. We hope that the Serbian authorities will be able to clarify both aspects for us „, the MEP said, adding that the whole effort was part of China’s ambition to have an open door on the Eastern part of the EU, which also includes Hungary.“

In the interview, Delbos-Corfield also touched upon the issue of the launch of Euronews Serbia TV channel, which in her words illustrated the same autocratic tendencies in Serbia. She said she planned to ask a written question to the Commission on the matter.

EURACTIV recalls that „in 2019, Euronews teamed up with the media group HD-WIN, owned by the state-owned Telecom Serbia, to launch a channel in Serbian.

It added that the new channel started broadcasting in early May 2021.

Experts say the venture violates a law that prohibits state-owned enterprises from founding or owning media outlets and are worried it will be used by the state to create an illusion of media freedom.

Delbos-Corfield also told the website that according to the internal regulations of Euronews, this media could not partner up with state entities.

According to media reports, the website said that Euronews has been under financial pressure and is eagerly selling franchises. „In Bulgaria, a petition was launched with the purpose of making the Lyon-based media change its mind about its Bulgarian partner.“

„Born as a project meant to become the European response to CNN, Euronews is now a troubled business venture with an Egyptian businessman as its largest shareholder, and the EU is discussing withdrawing its financial support,“ EURACTIVE said.