Privacy Fears Take Russian Government’s Facial Recognition Project to Court

A Russian court was set to hear a legal challenge to Moscow’s rollout of facial recognition technology on Friday over privacy fears, RNS reports.

The Russian state awarded a software contract last month to undertake the biggest surveillance project so far in the capital of Moscow.

Moscow has stepped up its drive to roll out facial recognition technology over the past year, spending or allocating at least 3.3 billion rubles ($53.3 million) on hardware for the project, the database of state purchases showed.

With Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin aiming to have 200,000 cameras across the city — 175,000 of which are already in place — the 12.5 million inhabitants of Russia’s capital fell under the watchful eye of one of the world’s most comprehensive surveillance systems when it became fully operational on January 1.

On Thursday, the European Union scrapped the possibility of a ban on facial recognition technology in public spaces, according to the latest proposals.

Lawyer and activist Alena Popova and opposition politician Vladimir Milov of the Solidarnost party filed a case against Moscow’s Department of Technology (DIT), which manages the capital’s video surveillance program, seeking to ban the technology’s use at mass events and protests.

It is Popova’s second attempt to ban facial recognition technology in Moscow after a November lawsuit was dismissed.

Popova was fined for appearing at a protest in Moscow in 2018, but she alleged that the authorities only established her identity using facial recognition technology.

On its website, the DIT says it uses video surveillance in crowded areas to “ensure safety”, and that video footage is deleted within five days of an incident unless a request by the public or law enforcement is made.

Moscow’s facial recognition surveillance began operating in full on Jan. 1 when NtechLab, a private company founded in 2015, won exclusive rights to provide unified video detection services with a 200 million rouble contract, the company confirmed.

The value of the surveillance system’s purchases of hardware such as cameras and servers dwarf this software contract, but NtechLab’s technology has made the system functional.

The company’s software is now working in 105,000 cameras at entrances to buildings in Moscow alone, a source told Reuters.

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