In 2009, the Government of Serbia and the Government of PR China signed an agreement on economic and technical cooperation in the area of infrastructure. The agreement came into force in 2013 with the Law on the Ratification of the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation in the Area of Infrastructure between the Government of Serbia and the Government of PR China.
Based on this agreement, the Serbian Ministry of Interior and the Chinese company “Huawei Technologies, Co, Ltd” started negotiations on the project “Safe Society” in 2011. They discussed the “possibilities and enhancement of the information and telecommunication system of the Ministry of Interior through providing solutions for increasing the general security of citizens.”
In December 2014, the Serbian Ministry of Interior and Huawei signed a Memorandum of Understanding related to the implementation of the “Safe Society” project.
In December 2016, the Government gives consent for signing the Agreement on the Strategic Partnership of the Ministry of Interior and Huawei for introducing Elte technologies and “safe city” solutions in the systems of public security. This agreement was signed at the beginning of February 2017.
In the fall of 2017, state administration representatives start to go public with the first information about the system of smart surveillance. The Minister of Interior announces the purchase of equipment, cameras, and software from Huawei so as to ensure better traffic control and more efficient prevention of criminal offences. At the end of the same year, the minister said that the cameras were installed across Belgrade in order to “renew” the system of video surveillance.
At the beginning of 2019, the Minister of Interior and the Police Director announced that close to a thousand cameras would be installed on 800 locations in Belgrade. The plan was to gradually expand the network to highways and main roads, whereby cameras would be equipped with software for recognition of faces and vehicle license plates. The relevant equipment would also be provided for patrol vehicles and policemen in the streets. Officials claimed that citizens had no reason to doubt that their personal data would be abused.
The application of the new Law on Personal Data Protection started in August 2019. A month later, in accordance with the Law, the Ministry of Interior conducted the Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), but did not publish it. The same year in October, the Ministry of Interior again assured the public that the privacy of citizens would not be compromised, claiming that the DPIA was sent to the Commissioner for Personal Data Protection for review.
The text of the DPIA became available to the general public in November 2019. Activists and organisations called for the Ministry of Interior to stop the installation of smart surveillance, for the time being due to the fact that this invasive measure of unselective surveillance would have to be justified by a concrete purpose based on well-established facts.
In parallel, the Commissioner gave the opinion that the DPIA was not in accordance with the Law, which was practically the same findings as the ones from the analysis of civil society organisations.
Citizens report daily on social media that cameras that look invasive in relation to space and population density are being installed in their streets and neighbourhoods.