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More sanctions knock Belarus face biometrics firm off center



Having already sanctioned an Eastern European maker of facial recognition tools for their use in political oppression, the European Union now is sanctioning its CEO.

The sanctions, which include the freezing of foreign assets, are being imposed as the Belarusian biometrics firm, Synesis, scrambles for a toehold in the United States.

This week, Alexander Shatrov (sometimes spelled Shatrou), was penalized for his alleged role in supplying Synesis’ Kipod tools to police for use in putting down political protests. Shatrov has denied the charges.

Kipod enables operators to feed in face photographs that are biometrically matched against digital video of people, in this case, thousands of people protesting what they feel was the theft of Belarus’ recent presidential election.

In responding to sanctions, Synesis executives say Kipod only looks for faces that the Belarus Ministry of Internal Affairs submits. It does not identify faces in a crowd.

According to media reports, Synesis plans to have a 13,000-camera Kipod system operating across the country this year.

In an industry unable to sustain any level of public trust in its practices or products, Synesis appears to be taking step to obscure basic facts about the company much less how the accuracy of its biometric algorithms and how they are being used.

The company lists its headquarters sometimes as Minsk, the capitol of the former Soviet bloc nation, and Russia, Shatrov’s home. Synesis variously counts its global workforce 100, 300 and 1,000.

Company representatives reportedly have said that Kipod “could not be used to identify” protestors, according to a report prepared by Kharon, maker of financial-crime compliance software, and, separately, reporting by Euroradio.fm.

Yet, Kipod is broadly marketed to law enforcement, including in Synesis’ listing among Intel’s AI builders, where it is described as “a carrier-grade solution for Public Safety, Law Enforcement, Government Intelligence and Homeland Security.”

Shatrov pushed into the U.S.’ biometrics market in 2019, creating IrexAI, which he has called a representative of Synesis.

Initially, he partnered IrexAI with two-person California VC shop GSD Venture Studios. One of the founders, Gary Fowler, claims a record of investing in successful Russian tech startups.

True or not, Fowler was able to see liabilities mounting for Synesis and IrexAI, and bailed with the first round of sanctions, writes Kharon.

Other Synesis products include dBrain, a hybrid, open-source cloud platform delivering Ceph, Docker and Kubernetes to governments and businesses. Another is GMS, a cloud server for cross-functional management of large sport events in 22 domains.

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