Activists take on Russian facial-recognition cameras 

Russia’s use of facial-recognition technology is being challenged by an activist in court.

Alyona Popova says the cameras pose a threat to privacy and human rights with Amnesty International’s support. 

A facial-recognition network covering the Moscow Metro underground is set to be fully operative by September, according to Amnesty.

Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said this month that facial-recognition cameras were operating “on a mass scale”. 

Russia has emerged as a leader in the development of facial-recognition technology. 

The Tverskoy District Court in Moscow will hear the case that seeks to prohibit the technology at large-scale events and demand that the authorities delete all stored data from earlier gatherings. 

Activists say they face persistent efforts to silence civil society movements and crush dissent against President Vladimir Putin.

Amnesty said governments and manufacturers must demonstrate that the technology complied with international human rights law.

“Facial recognition technology is by nature deeply intrusive, as it enables the widespread and bulk monitoring, collection, storage and analysis of sensitive personal data without individualised reasonable suspicion,” said Natalia Zviagina of Amnesty. 

“In the hands of Russia’s already very abusive authorities, and in the total absence of transparency and accountability for such systems, it is a tool which is likely to take reprisals against peaceful protest to an entirely new level,” the NGO’s Russia specialist said. 

“It is telling that the Russian government has provided no explanation as to how it will ensure the right to privacy and other human rights, nor has it addressed the need for public oversight of such powerful technologies.

“The authorities’ response to last summer’s peaceful protests has demonstrated a clear desire to use profiling and surveillance against the government’s critics. 

“The deployment of facial-recognition systems during public assemblies – which all available evidence suggests is its primary purpose – will inevitably have a chilling effect on protesters.” 

The Russian authorities say facial recognition helps with crime-fighting. 

Popova was fined for taking part in a 2019 protest in Moscow and she claimed the authorities used the technology to identify her without consent. She tried to sue the Moscow authorities but a court dismissed her case in November, saying there was no proof the controversial technology was used.

Popova was subsequently fined after a court ruled she violated strict Russian legislation on public gatherings.

Moscow has approximately 160,000 CCTV cameras with an increasing proportion using live facial recognition.


Picture credit: Wikimedia

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