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Ethnicity recognition found among Russian face biometrics providers’ features

Ethnicity recognition found among Russian face biometrics providers’ features

A quartet of Russian biometrics providers have been found to have built ethnicity-recognition tools into facial recognition systems, like their Chinese counterparts, in an investigation by IPVM.

AxxonSoft, Tevian, VisionLabs (which is based in the Netherlands but was founded in Russia) and NtechLab were each found to have offered facial recognition solutions with ethnicity analytics, though no customers were found to be using the feature. The ethnicity identification features described in marketing materials and other publicly available materials classify people into one of four racial groups.

Each of the companies supplies Russian government agencies, IPVM notes.

Reuters conducted its own investigation based on IPVM’s findings, and spoke to an Amnesty International researcher who said racial profiling, arbitrary detentions and violence are frequent for migrants in Russia, particularly among those from Central Asia.

The companies have a variety of business models and explanations for the ethnicity recognition feature’s presence in their software.

AxxonSoft sells through the channel, and told Thomson Reuters Foundation it is disabling the feature, which was inadvertently included in an integration of third-party software. Tevian’s CEO told Reuters that its software is used for forensic investigations, and its CEO said the technology is rudimentary, but expressed concern at its theoretical applications.

VisionLabs says the feature was developed only for internal research purposes, and that it had never been licensed, both due to ethical and legal concerns, since it may violate GDPR.

NtechLab, which submitted a leading algorithm to the recent NIST FRVT 1:1 benchmark and has numerous large-scale public contracts in Russia, did not respond to requests by Reuters or IPVM for comment. Moscow’s Department of Technology said its video analytics are used to improve safety and find suspects, without directly addressing the ethnicity recognition feature.

Fallout from the discovery of ethnicity recognition systems targeting China’s Uyghur minority continued with the expulsion of Dahua from the SIA in June.

Mandatory biometrics submission for long-term foreign visitors

Russia’s government has also moved recently to require the submission of fingerprints and other biometric data by all foreigners staying in the country for longer than three months, The Moscow Times reports.

Migrant workers will have 30 days to submit their biometrics, while leisure travellers will have 90 days. Mandatory checks within the same time frames will also be made for diseases include HIV, and for drug use. Foreigners’ biometrics will be retained until they turn 100 years old or die.

Diplomats, international NGO workers, Belarussians and children under 6 are exempt.

Reports last year suggested Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs intended to collect fingerprint, face and DNA biometric data from both Russians and foreigners.

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