Serbia lobbying Western support to carry on with smart city biometrics project amid criticism

Serbian officials are reportedly negotiating financial and technical support for U.S. and Swedish smart city tech, drawing criticism from citizens and rights advocates.

According to a report by corporate and government intelligence publication Intelligence Online (subscription), Serbia is continuing negotiations it started in 2021 with Swedish digital investigation software maker Griffeye. The idea is to have Griffeye’s AI algorithm analyze faces captured on the hundreds of facial recognition cameras that the government bought from Chinese company Huawei. The controversial company has been making inroads into Serbia.

Recall that a contract to build a smart city project was signed in 2017 between Serbian authorities and Huawei. Two years later, officials announced the installation of 1,000 smart cameras backed by facial recognition software in 800 locations.

Lobbying Serbian government officials might be at least as productive as looking for new foreign partners.

The project has yet to take off because a regulatory framework for processing biometric data has not been created. The country’s data protection agency has also been critical of the project.

Intelligence Online writes that the development is part of a broader ongoing battle in which surveillance vendors from the West and the East are scampering to secure ground in Serbia’s mass surveillance software goals.

This comes as the Belgrade Center for Security Policy is said to be putting together a list of all surveillance systems deployed by the country’s ministries and agencies including those installed by Huawei in Belgrade.

Serbian police have been making use of open-source intelligence software supplied by German firm Maltego thanks to support from the American Chamber of Commerce in Serbia.

The outlet writes that Maltego had also planned to partner with another company, Social Links, which originally was Russian, but has changed its registration to American after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Apart from helping secure Maltego software for the police, Amcham has also reportedly enabled the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunication to buy other software that has been criticized as being used by the Serbian Progressive Party for political purposes.

Israeli businesses are also involved. According to Intelligence Online, the country’s cybersecurity and intelligence presence industry has a strong presence in Serbia. One of those companies is cyber intelligence firm Cyberbit Solutions, which sells services to Serbia’s electronic communications and postal services regulation agency, Ratel.

Common front proposed to counter China’s tech advances

In a related development, the increasing pace with which China is building technologies, including surveillance systems, was discussed during a keynote panel on digital security during a forum organized by the Center for European Policy Analysis.

During the forum, panelists raised questions on whether the development of big tech should be led by democratic countries such as the United States and some in the European Union, or by authoritarian countries like China, according to a center article on the event.

The panelists believe the U.S. and the EU must work for a more democratic internet experience and prevent China against establishing global technology supremacy.

China has come under sustained criticism, primarily in the West, for the development of surveillance technologies which have sometimes been used to violate human rights. The country has not slowed its surveillance system production and sales, regardless.

“When you look at what China has achieved in building technologies, be it 5G or AI, we face a serious competitor,” said Ylli Bajraktari, CEO of an initiative which advises on how the U.S. can maintain the lead in the development of new technologies.

To counter China, the experts think Europe must abandon what they call tech protectionism, and for the U.S. to put in place appropriate tech regulations.

The EU is already in the process of instituting regulation for the development and use of AI.

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