Russian authorities seek access to biometric data as law enforcement surveillance increases

December 29, 2017 - 

A draft bill to require Russia’s state telecom to provide the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) with bank customers’ biometric data without their consent is being considered by the State Duma, The Moscow Times reports. The proposal coincides with the expansion of a municipal surveillance program powered by facial recognition in Moscow.

Rostelecom is operating a project by Russia’s Communications Ministry and Central Bank to remotely verify bank account applications with personal biometrics, including facial images and voice recording, by late 2018. The program could be expanded to include iris, palm, and fingerprint recognition.

The bill’s co-author said that law enforcement access to the biometric data would not be unlimited, and would be provided through official requests, but Rostelecom’s role has already sparked concerns over state surveillance and privacy rights, according to The Times.

Facial recognition operational on Moscow’s municipal surveillance network

Moscow’s facial recognition system, installed on 1,150 cameras so far, can return weeks worth of video footage in 10 seconds for an individual among 10 million, the Washington Post reports.

Moscow has contracted telecommunications operators to install more than 130,000 cameras, many with high-resolution, swivel and zooming capabilities, over the past six years. They link to a centralized database available to 6,000 law enforcement officers and 16,000 officials from different levels of government. A mobile app which feeds images into the video database is also available.

As previously reported, the facial recognition capabilities are provided by N-TechLab. The company’s FindFace solution has performed comparably to Google in the University of Washington’s MegaFace competition.

The centralized CCTV was originally developed for municipal services use, but has evolved into a law enforcement tool with the application of analytics.

“If there’s a video camera, you should probably be ready for there to be analytics,” said Mikhail Ivanov, chief executive at N-TechLab. “The world has changed. Let’s stop arguing over how we would like this to have been stopped and have an open discussion with business on one side, government on the second and society on the third about how analytics based on facial recognition can be used for comfort and safety.”

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About Chris Burt

Chris Burt is a writer and contributor to Biometric Update. He has also written nonfiction about information technology, dramatic arts, sports culture, and fantasy basketball, as well as fiction about a doomed astronaut. He lives in Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @AFakeChrisBurt."