Moscow upgrading CCTV cameras with facial recognition capabilities

Moscow is upgrading its public surveillance system by adding facial recognition technology to the 170,000 cameras installed across the city in an effort to identify criminals and increase security, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Since 2012, CCTV recordings have been held for five days after they’re captured, with about 20 million hours of video stored at any one time.

“We soon found it impossible to process such volumes of data by police officers alone,” said Artem Ermolaev, head of the department of information technology in Moscow. “We needed an artificial intelligence to help find what we are looking for.”

The municipal government says Moscow’s centralized surveillance network is the world’s largest of its kind.

The UK is also known for its rampant use of CCTV cameras with as many as 70,000 cameras operated by the government across the country, according to a 2013 report by the British Security Industry Association.

Designed by Russian startup N-Tech.Lab Ltd, Moscow’s new facial recognition system compares a digital fingerprint of images from the Interior Ministry’s database against images captured by cameras at entrances to apartment complexes, Ermolaev said.

During a two-month trial of the system conducted earlier this year, the system successfully identified and led to the detainings of six criminals on a federal “wanted” list, he said.

N-techlab’s accuracy has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the University of Washington.

The startup also released a mobile app last year called FindFace, which allows consumers to take a photograph of strangers in public spaces that then identifies individuals in the picture by matching their faces to profiles on Russia’s largest social network, VKontakte.

Ermolaev said the Moscow government is currently spending about 5 billion rubles (US$86 million) a year to maintain its video surveillance system.

Deploying facial recognition capabilities to all of 170,000 cameras would triple these costs so the technology will only be applied within districts where it is most necessary, he said.

Mikhail Zyuzin, an IT expert at the Moscow-based Academy of Information Systems, said that while these systems are legal in Russia, he is concerned about the potential personal privacy implications.

“If the system is hacked by third parties, they could potentially get access to information on where you live, where you go and what routes you take,” he said.

The data is retained in a closed system accessible only to a limited number of users, while the software will only compare images from CCTV cameras to information already in police databases, he said.

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