C.E.I.E.C. and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement, Huawei said: “Huawei provides technology to support smart city and safe city programs across the world. In each case, Huawei does not get involved in setting public policy in terms of how that technology is used.”
In Ecuador, the cameras that are part of ECU-911 hang from poles and rooftops, from the Galápagos Islands to the Amazonian jungle. The system lets the authorities track phones and may soon get facial-recognition capabilities. Recordings allow the police to review and reconstruct past incidents.
While ECU-911 was sold to the public as a way to get a grip on dizzying murder rates and drug-related petty crime, it also served Mr. Correa’s authoritarian streak, supporting his feared National Intelligence Secretariat, or Senain, according to a former head of the group. In a rare interview last year at Senain’s headquarters in a bunker outside Quito, its leader at the time, Jorge Costa, confirmed that the domestic intelligence group had access to a mirror of the Chinese-built surveillance system.
The irony is that ECU-911 has not been effective at stopping crime, many Ecuadoreans said, though the system’s installation paralleled a period of falling crime rates. Ecuadoreans cite muggings and attacks that happened in front of the cameras without police response. Still, the police have built public support, partly by releasing clips on Twitter and television of thieves and muggers caught on camera.
Left to choose between privacy and safety, many Ecuadoreans opt for the unblinking gaze of the electronic eyes. With the mass surveillance genie out of the bottle, community leaders have called for cameras to help secure their neighborhoods, even when their own experiences are that the devices do not work well. Concerns about the long-term political implications trail behind the pressing realities of violence and drugs.
Mr. Moreno, who came to power in 2017 and has walked back some of Mr. Correa’s autocratic policies, has vowed to investigate Senain’s abuses and is remaking the intelligence collection agency under a new name. His government helped open up ECU-911 and Senain to The Times.
“The government viewed espionage as a toolbox, and they could use any tool they wanted,” Ms. Roldós said. “They could spy on your emails, your phone calls, they would set microphones on your vehicle. At the same time, you had people following you. It was a whole system.”