News Brief
Authoritarian Tech

Moscow rolls out facial recognition to boost policing

As new tech such as biometrics and cloud intelligence changes the nature of law enforcement, Russia has put facial recognition systems at the heart of its policing strategy.

Last week, the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs revealed the results of its latest facial recognition system test: over two years, 90 individuals were detained as a result of the software. The trials have used 1,000 facial recognition-equipped cameras in residential courtyards.

The ministry added that between five and ten arrests could be made every month using this emerging technology, without the need to increase police staff.

Russian authorities have become increasingly dependent on surveillance cameras, with a reported 70% of criminal investigations in Moscow undertaken using a city-wide CCTV network. Moscow officially plan to expand the city’s network to around 175,000 cameras. But it’s not just Russians who are subjected to surveillance through facial recognition systems.

Earlier this year, an independent U.S. watchdog which warned of the rise of facial recognition surveillance. If you didn’t catch it, you can read about it on Coda Story here. The Project on Government Oversight advised that facial recognition software should only be used in emergency situations: “There are practically no laws limiting facial recognition surveillance,” stated the report’s authors, “It’s time for that to change.”

That change seems unlikely, whether you’re in Russia, China or Europe. Big Brother Watch, a privacy watchdog group based in the UK, has labelled facial recognition systems used by British police forces as “authoritarian,” claiming that, “the use of this technology for public surveillance is dangerous and undemocratic.”

In Russia, it was revealed in May that the Chinese tech giant, Huawei, bought the Moscow-based facial recognition technology company, Vocord for $50 million. It is unclear at this time if Huawei intends to supply the Russian government with facial recognition systems designed for policing, but with countries across the globe vying to develop better software, it is evident that this growing industry is set to become a battleground in the technological arms race.

Nikita Kulikov, executive director of the law firm Heads Consulting, said the use of facial recognition by police was at an early stage in Moscow. “In Russia, this system was introduced a few years ago, but the law enforcement agencies started using it only during the World Cup in 2018. While testing it, policemen revealed dozens of faces which were wanted for various reasons. But it was a one-off case.”

Coda Story visited the IFSEC International security conference in June 2019. Stay tuned for our coverage from the UK & Europe’s leading security event, coming soon.

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