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Heavy-handed Russian government still can’t easily pull off a massive biometric program

Heavy-handed Russian government still can’t easily pull off a massive biometric program
 

Moscow’s campaign to get its finger in as many biometrics pies as possible is intensifying, if not exactly gaining momentum. Unnamed executives in Russia’s finance industry reportedly see reason to doubt edicts will be met.

After saying this winter that they would like to get a copy of the biometric data that banks collect, government officials reportedly have told state-owned banks that full biometric files will be sent to the government for inclusion in its Unified Biometric System.

Russian news publication Kommersant reports that the nation’s four biggest state-owned banks have been directed to comply.

The government ‘s ministry for digital development and mass media said it has opened a channel for transferring people’s biometrics collected by banks to the Unified Biometric System. Transfers can only occur with the customer’s permission.

The biggest state-owned financial institution, Sberbank, was contacted with transfer instructions separate from its competitors, according to Kommersant.

It is not known why Sberbank has been singled out. It is possible that Sberbank’s status as an economic cornerstone of the autocratic government makes this is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

It also is possible that bank customers in general are increasingly distrustful of plans to gather more biometric data and consolidate at least a version of it in the Unified Biometric System.

As is common globally, a portion of the population does not believe government should be trusted to make such a database accurate, secure and transparent, according to Human Rights Watch.

Private banks are being asked to share their biometric databases, too. But “please” may give way to “now.”

According to second Kommersant article, Moscow has made collecting 70 million biometric scans by 2024 its target. Only 180,000 are in the biometric system at the moment.

Individual citizens are not off the hook. The government is considering throttling online services for those who do not submit biometric identifiers.

And, according to a translation of the original Kommersant article, “Representatives of the interests of the Russian Federation in the councils are required to vote for the transfer of biometrics.”

Conditions on the ground may make that an empty vote. Sources reportedly told Kommersant that biometric data in banks’ hands might not meet the government’s “strict requirements” of the information.

Also, there are no laws defining individual consent. The Russian people could balk at a perceived data grab by a government broadly viewed as corrupt and inept.

Moscow’s push is recent.

No sooner had the Russian federal government decided in 2016 to develop biometrics for citizen identification and electronic transaction verification than the government stated it wanted to build a single database for the country.

Today, the four-year-old Unified Biometric System exerts its own gravity on public and private organizations that have individuals’ biometric identifiers, including voice and face. It is, in fact, now part of the overarching government information system.

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