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Russia allegedly using facial recognition to preventatively detain protesters

Russia allegedly using facial recognition to preventatively detain protesters

What remained of the right to protest and express political opinions in Russia appears to be a casualty of the country’s war with Ukraine, and a new report claims that facial recognition is being used by authorities to identify people who are not accused of committing any crime for detention.

Reuters reports that hundreds of arrests of protestors have been informed by the 160,000 surveillance cameras deployed around Moscow; at least 3,000 of which are integrated with facial recognition. Many of those arrests occurred in 2021, court records show.

Authorities in Russia have now pivoted to using facial recognition to identify people who may protest in the future, and intervene on a preventative basis.

A lawyer with human rights group OVD-Info says that the practice is new. The group has counted 141 preventative detentions carried out with facial recognition in 2022.

One protestor describes a violent detention by police in Moscow to Reuters, which differed from previous times when he had been detained, in that it did not follow an incident of activism. He was not charged with an offense. Reuters suggests the detention follows a pattern.

The outlet interviewed 29 people who were stopped by police in Moscow’s metro system, which has an extensive facial recognition system for payments and security. Officers indicated to all but one that biometrics had been used to identify them. Detentions lasted anywhere from 10 minutes to 18 hours.

Biometrics developers including VisionLabs, NtechLab, Tevian and Synesis have provided algorithms to Moscow’s facial recognition system, at the street or subway level, directly or through third parties. NtechLab tells Reuters it no longer supplies the Metro system as of last year.

The report notes that VisionLabs’ and NtechLab’s solutions both use chips from U.S.-based Nvidia for fast one-to-many matches. Nvidia stopped selling to Russian companies when the U.S. imposed export controls in March, 2022, though Reuters claims to have found Russian customs records showing imports continuing through that October.

Synesis has used Intel chips with its Kipod facial recognition platform. Both American chipmakers say they have complied with all controls, and have committed to upholding human rights.

The report also notes NtechLab has won $40,000 in competitions hosted by IARPA, and the participation of Russia-linked developers in NIST’s FRVT, as other engagements that have different connotations for many than they did a few years ago.

The Anti-Corruption Foundation, founded by jailed Russian opposition politician Alexander Navalny, has called for sanctions against the CEOs and founders of the businesses above.

The founders of NtechLab have already resigned from the company, and both left Russia between late-2021 and early-2022, telling Reuters they disagreed with management and investors about projects within Russia.

Artem Kukharenko and Alexander Kabakov said they had wanted to stop NtechLab’s Russian operations and relocate the company.


This post was updated at 1:32 on March 31, 2023 to update the status of NtechLab’s founders.

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