Can Huawei's camera system really monitor militant activity?

Afghanistan plans to install Huawei surveillance camera systems to monitor militant activity. (Image – Shutterstock)

Will the Taliban use Huawei’s camera system to locate militants in Afghanistan?

  • Reports indicate that the Taliban government in Afghanistan is using Huawei’s surveillance camera system.
  • The camera system will be used to monitor militant activities.
  • Huawei, however, has commented that no plans on this have been discussed.  

Security camera systems today can take surveillance to an entirely new era. In the past, most organizations and law enforcement agencies would need to control and operate camera systems manually. There would be teams to focus on detecting anomalies or any potential crime happening by watching the feed.

Thankfully, advances in facial recognition and other detection techniques embedded with artificial intelligence (AI) have made the process much simpler and more organized today. In fact, modern security camera systems are not only able to detect problems but also send out alerts in real time.

As the technology has become more affordable, many homeowners have also invested in security camera systems. Some use them to monitor their homes, while others use them to give access to visitors and such. For businesses, AI security camera systems allow them to enhance their security on-premises and monitor their employees.

More recently, AI camera systems have been deployed for monitoring and detection of natural disasters and such. For example, the US and Australia have deployed cameras in hotspots around the country to detect bushfires and monitor the spread of these fires so that they can improve the response time needed to deal with these disasters.

Huawei camera systems being removed in Australia.

A woman walks past a security camera in Melbourne on February 9, 2023. Australia’s defence department will strip its buildings of Chinese-made security cameras to ensure they are “completely secure”, the government said on February 9. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

AI camera systems for the military 

Some governments also use AI cameras to monitor their borders and such. According to reports, an Israeli company has developed a device that allows soldiers and rescuers to detect people—and pets—through any wall or barrier in front of them. Using AI, the device can even track a person’s movement patterns, providing crucial intel to soldiers on the other side.

Another Israeli tech company, Axon, provides solutions for computer vision for military vehicles and equipment. Military vehicles and equipment with visual sensors equipped with Axon’s resolutions can provide an insightful view of targets, threats, and obstacles that might be obstructed.

Meanwhile, US marines were reportedly able to trick an AI tested for military use by hiding behind a cardboard box. The scenario highlights why AI camera systems still need to be perfected and why human intervention is still essential for making decisions, especially in times of conflict and in mission scenarios.

AI camera systems by Huawei.

A Tweet on the alleged meeting between Huawei and Taliban government.

Talibans to use AI camera systems?

Interestingly, the use of AI camera systems has also caught the attention of Afghanistan’s Taliban government. In a report by Bloomberg, the Afghan government is working with Huawei Technologies to install a wide-ranging surveillance system nationwide.

The surveillance camera system will identify and target insurgents or terrorist activities. Citing a person familiar with the discussions, Bloomberg also reported that representatives from Huawei met with Afghanistan’s Inferior Ministry on August 14 and that a verbal agreement was reached regarding the contract.

In an X (Twitter) post, which has since been deleted, the Afghan interior ministry shared images and details of the meeting with a spokesman stating that Huawei’s advanced camera system was being considered in “every province of Afghanistan.”

Huawei has several advanced camera systems for surveillance. This includes a home video surveillance system, which is designed for homes. For industrial and other surveillance, Huawei’s Video Surveillance uses the edge cloud synergy solution to integrate Huawei Cloud’s powerful intelligent analysis capabilities and open ecosystem. This provides complete and synergetic smart video surveillance, meeting requirements of diverse application scenarios such as campuses, residential buildings, industries, and supermarkets.

Surprisingly, in an email to Bloomberg, Huawei said that the meeting report was “factually incorrect” and that “no plans or agreements were discussed.” There were no further comments from the Taliban government regarding this as well.

A report on Huawei and Taliban

China and Afghanistan 

Huawei has been operating in Afghanistan for some time. The technology company sells mobile phone products in the country through a local distributor.

At the same time, given the country’s geographic location, it will serve as an essential bridge for China’s Belt and Road economic plans. China recently announced a new 3125 km land link that uses both railways and roads to the country that also passes through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

On the surveillance camera system, while the Taliban government claims that it will be used to track militants, especially those linked with ISIS, there are concerns that the technology could also be used for other regions.

For one, there are concerns that China will use the technology to profile Afghan citizens. As China expands its influence, some feel this would be an opportunity for them to have a deeper involvement in the country.

The Taliban government could use the cameras to monitor its citizens. According to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban, which took power in August 2021, continued to impose numerous rules and policies violating a wide range of fundamental rights of women and girls, including freedom of movement, proper to work and a livelihood, and access to education and health care.

Authorities also repressed or threatened the media and critics of Taliban rule, forced the closure of civil society organizations, and dismantled government offices meant to promote or uphold human rights. There are concerns that the camera systems could be used to control citizen movements and have stricter rules enforced in the future.