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Foreigners, users of car services likely in Russia’s biometric crosshairs

Foreigners, users of car services likely in Russia’s biometric crosshairs

Bit by bit, face biometrics is being massaged into Russia’s economy.

In the private sector, national politicians want taxi services and short-term car-rental firms to use biometric authentication as part of their contracts.

On the public side, new regulations are being imposed on foreign nationals working in Russia. They require the visitors to submit biometric identifiers including fingerprints. (Text of the new rules, in Russian, can be found here.)

The car-service bill is expected to be voted on this spring and is part of the Kremlin’s goal to have biometric authentication be a part of 80 percent of passenger trips by 2030, according to tech publisher Informa.

Biometrics would make ID verification more reliable, but it would also make surveillance — a key task in autocratic Russia — easier and more pervasive.

At the same time, Informa reports, biometrics in the car-rental service is expected to fight the instances of people hijacking someone’s rented car for joy riding and illicit racing.

Informa reports, however, that the Russian public does not show as much trust in the security of their biometric data as the government and industry leaders had anticipated. It is not uncommon for curious consumers to find little or no information about a vendor’s most basic security practices.

The new rules for foreign nationals are more-straightforward political moves (although exactly what biometrics besides fingerprints are involved is not clear).

Hints of similar technology being used on customers in the U.S. drew immediate scrutiny, and even verifying the identities of rideshare drivers in London has proven problematic.

Xenophobic policies are always popular among autocrats. Outsiders make convenient scapegoats in down economies and otherwise stressful times. The Russian public is wary of strangers, so just announcing the move may win politicians’ support.

The country’s president, Vladimir Putin, is a former KGB agent, and his grandfather was Joseph Stalin’s personal cook. It is little surprise that his government would take a stance on foreigners that borders on paranoia.

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