Hong Kong police seek HK$5.2bil for new 5G system to handle ‘massive’ data gathered by frontline officers

The force says new system is necessary to address national security needs and improve efficiency of policing and emergency services. Current technology is unable to send real-time information in the form of audio, video and images, police say. — SCMP

Hong Kong police have sought HK$5.2bil (US$662mil) in funding to build a new 5G communications system to handle a “massive amount” of texts, images, videos and other data gathered by frontline officers, saying the upgrade is necessary to address national security needs.

In a paper submitted to the Legislative Council on Wednesday, the force said the Next Generation Communications System (NGCS) could also “improve the operational efficiency of policing and emergency services”.

“[NGCS] can optimise the efficiency of police officers’ frontline duties, including real-time transmission of voice, video and picture messages,” police said in the paper submitted to Legco’s security panel.

Police say the new system is necessary to address national security needs and improve efficiency. Photo: Jelly Tse

The force is altogether requesting a HK$5.78bil fund for various system upgrades, including the new 5G system.

An upgrade was needed because current radio communications technology was developed in 1995 and could only send voice and simple text messages due to a narrow bandwidth, police explained.

“They are unable to send real-time information in the form of audio, video and image, causing information on the situation at [the] scene and [during] discharge of duty [to be] fragmented, and may even have omissions and incomplete communication at times,” it said in the paper.

Police added the use of mobile broadband had become a global trend for law enforcement agencies, pointing to places such as mainland China, Thailand, Britain and the United States.

The last time a communications system update for the force was approved by the Legco finance committee was in 2016. It involved a HK$855mil upgrade of the 999 emergency telephone system, a computer-assisted command and control system, as well as two other subsystems.

The HK$5.2bil will cover expenses across six financial years, including HK$1.28bil for hardware and software, HK$860mil to build wireless base stations across the city and HK$600mil to rent mobile broadband networks, according to police. About 33,000 radio sets will also be bought.

As part of the overall HK$5.78bil fund, the force also requested HK$390mil for the creation of a centralised digital image platform, which it said would be compatible with other artificial intelligence image analysis tools to improve the identification of suspicious individuals and case-related objects.

“The platform and its extensible technology applications will substantially promote [police’s] case detection and intelligence analysis capabilities, especially for cross-regional criminal activities, such as various types of deception cases, and cases involving national and public security,” the force said.

Police will also seek HK$190mil for a system to manage human resources records of officers.

The force said an upgrade was needed after personal details of officers and their family members were leaked during the 2019 anti-government protests, especially after the provider of the current system stopped renewing its service contract with police in early 2021 due to US sanctions.

“Continued use of unsupported software will affect the reliability of the system and may even expose the system to security vulnerabilities,” it said in the paper.

Police added they would move their entire core database, now stored in the existing platform, to a new management system to prevent being locked out by service providers.

Washington in June 2020 imposed export bans on defence equipment and dual-use technologies to Hong Kong, hours after Beijing passed the national security law. – South China Morning Post

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