Moscow Is Using Coronavirus as an Excuse to Amp Up Its Facial Recognition Surveillance

The lockdowns will eventually lift, but Russians worry the widespread use of this technology is here to stay.
April 17, 2020, 7:22pm

MOSCOW –– There’s about 178,000 surveillance cameras set up all around the Russian capital, pretty much wherever you look, and some of them are already connected to facial recognition software that’s helped police arrest more than 300 people. But now the authorities are trying to bring the entire fleet of cameras into the facial recognition network –– supposedly to catch people breaking the coronavirus quarantine.

Franz Klintsevich, a senator with the ruling United Russia party, brushed off privacy concerns: “If there is a crime, it’s recorded on camera and eyewitnesses confirm this is what happened. Where is the abuse?”

But the software is extremely powerful –– it correctly identified a person wearing a balaclava –– and critics say it's ripe for abuse.

Late last year journalist Andrei Kaganskikh was able to buy real-time access to Moscow’s surveillance cameras on an internet forum. Police “can track people without a court order, without any checks,” he asserted.

And when activist Katrin Nenesheva painted her face with lines to try to trick the cameras on a Moscow street, police quickly swooped in and shut down her action. “Your rights, even to minimal privacy, have vanished,” she said. “You don’t even own your own face.”