In Beijing, 'Smart City' plan brings more surveillance

BEIJING -- The Chinese capital's Tongzhou district is a new frontier for the an expanding surveillance camera market, which grew 30 percent last year.
Written by Tom Hancock, Contributor

BEIJING -- Last month residents of Beijing's Tongzhou district woke up to find 678 CCTV cameras had been installed on major streets and intersections near their homes. Tongzhou's Public Security Bureau, which controls the local police force, has spent 90 million RMB (approx. $14 million USD) on installing the cameras.

The district, favored by first time home buyers and office workers, will also install 100 police call boxes, which are connected to security cameras. Residents will be able to use the boxes to alert the police if they spot any criminal behavior, The Beijing Evening News reported.

The district government calls the project "Skynet." Official photographs of Skynet's launch ceremony show representatives from Tongzhou's police force gathered around a transparent glass orb.

Ten million security cameras were installed in China last year, and security camera sales grew by 30 percent, according electronics consultancy IMS research. Sales of "network cameras," which are connected to computer networks for remote monitoring, increased by 200 percent in 2010.

Government purchasing still accounts for 70 percent of China's security camera market, according to Bo Zhang, a researcher at IMS. Over the last five years, a government-sponsored "Safe City" project has provided funds to install security cameras in 600 cities across China. “That’s driven the market in recent years," Zhang said. This March, Beijing announced that all cinemas, theaters and music venues in the city would be required to install security cameras.

Most of the profits are going to Chinese companies, which have an 80% market share. "Foreign manufacturers are favored at the higher end of the market," Zhang said.

The cameras in Tongzhou are likely to be part of a new "Smart City" project, currently on trial in several Chinese cities, and due to be rolled out across the country over the next few years. "The whole idea is like science fiction," said Dr. Kam Wong, an expert on Chinese policing at Xavier University in Cincinnati. The "Smart City" project is likely to lead to increased automatization of policing. "For [policing authorities] its quite logical to have the whole city wired up so you have fewer people involved," he said. Increasing surveillance is likely to be effective in reducing some kinds of street crime, such as theft. "Of course, it's good policing," Wong said.

Still, the Smart City project won’t will not generate as much demand for cameras as the "Safe City" project did. "I think the market has reached a bottleneck in major Chinese cities," Bo Zhang said.

That leaves security camera vendors searching for new markets. At Beijing's Zhongguancun electronics market, representatives of Chinese security firms sell an array of security cameras from dilapidated stalls. The cameras are proving popular with individual buyers. "We've had a lot of customers who want to install cameras for the parking space under their apartments," security equipment saleswomen Zhang Yue said. Others are considering a move to smaller cities in China. "I think business would be better in second- or third-tier cities," she added.

The expansion of surveillance in China has not met with a great deal of public suspicion. "There was some controversy about whether security cameras should be installed in female college dormitories," said Lan Fang, a reporter in Beijing. "But apart from that it's not really been debated in the media."

"There are already too many things to worry about in China," Pangqing Duan, a local resident, said, citing rising food and house prices, and traffic congestion as bigger concerns for Tongzhou's residents than surveillance.

"Most people here lead highly pressured lives," he said. "Besides, the cameras will probably be good for controlling crime and traffic."

Photos: Sina Weibo; Author's Photo.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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