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The NYT investigates China’s surveillance-state exports

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Ecuador’s intelligence agency caught monitoring public video feeds

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Ecuador’s intelligence agency has access to a vast Chinese-made surveillance system which could be used to spy on its citizens, a report from The New York Times has discovered. During an interview at an unmarked bunker in the country belonging to the National Intelligence Secretariat, or Senain, the paper says it inadvertently discovered Senain agents monitoring video feeds installed to help police fight crime. The discovery happened after a reporter adjusted what he thought was a dimmer switch only to reveal a hidden window that had previously been frosted over.

The discovery is likely to increase concerns about the use of Chinese-made surveillance state equipment around the world. The ECU-911 system used in Ecuador was manufactured jointly by China’s state-backed C.E.I.E.C and Huawei, and consists of as many as 4,200 cameras, monitored by 16 centers and around 3,000 employees. The system lets the government track phones, and may soon be upgraded with facial-recognition capabilities, according to The New York Times.

Outside of Ecuador, similar systems have been sold to Venzuela, Bolivia, and Angola, and the NYT reports that as many as 18 countries worldwide are currently using Chinese-made monitoring systems. China isn’t the first country to have produced this technology, but activists are concerned that it has made these systems vastly cheaper for other countries to install, use, and ultimately, abuse.

The full report and video documentary is well worth your time. As The NYT notes, “these cameras are easier to abuse than to use, it just depends what your goals are.”