Doing business in Latin America under the Eye of the Dragon

Chinese-operated surveillance networks are rolling out all across Latin America, possibly offering huge advantages to Chinese commercial interests. What do the changes mean for tech business in Latin America?

It's a standard movie trope nowadays. Government operatives in a high tech ops room are at work.

The high-tech spies become interested in a given location, perhaps thousands of miles away on a different continent. The person in charge merely has to bark something like "Is there any CCTV?" and within seconds live images of the given place are thrown onto a big screen, usually with ample resolution allowing faces to be easily identified. Sometimes the initial clue, indeed, is supposed to have come from automated facial or gait identification software trawling across huge areas and populations.

In the blockbuster Fast and Furious 6, London has a central control room with live access to every camera in the city, and which can offer remote hookups. In the Bourne movies, CIA personnel in the USA can routinely call up live imagery from cities around the world.

The movie people didn't come up with these ideas on their own. As long ago as 2006, the UK was described as "the most spied on nation in the world" in the national press, and academic researchers asserted that Londoners were then being imaged by CCTV systems no less than 300 times a day.

So it's true, then? At least in major western cities, the surveillance society is here.

Actually not so much, at least when it comes to London, Berlin, New York and such places. The usual reality today is one of footsore investigators in the aftermath of an incident going through a long process of identifying cameras that might be of use, contacting their operators (typically small private-sector organisations, in the West), getting hold of potentially relevant recordings (if they exist), converting these to useable formats and then sitting through hours of video before finding anything out. Even then, much current CCTV imagery isn't good enough even for trained humans to identify faces, let alone facial-recognition software with its famously high error rates. There's not usually any option at all for remote real-time access.

In the UK, limited trials of facial recognition systems by police have taken place but this has aroused intense opposition and legal challenges are underway.

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