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ECJ hits Russia with human rights violations due to facial recognition use

ECJ hits Russia with human rights violations due to facial recognition use

The European Court of Human Rights (ECJ) has decided unanimously that Russia is guilty of human rights violations due to use of facial recognition technology against a Russian citizen who held a solo demonstration in the Moscow underground.

Though Russia is not part of the European Union and has never had any serious negotiations about entrance, it was still subject to the decisions of ECJ until 16 September 2022.

The ECJ interprets the European Convention on Human Rights and has authority over almost every other country in Europe apart from Belarus and Vatican City.

Though Russia has ceased to be a ‘High Contracting Party to the Convention’ the ECJ can still examine alleged violations of the Convention committed by Russia up to that date.

Nikolay Sergeyevich Glukhin, a Russian national, allegedly traveled on the Moscow underground with a life-size cardboard figure of Konstanin Kotov, a protestor who had gained widespread notoriety within the Russian media, and was jailed for four years in 2019.

He was reportedly  holding a banner that said, “I’m facing up to five years … for peaceful protests”.

According to the write-up by the ECJ, Russian police found photographs and a video of Mr Glukhin’s demonstration in the underground on a public social media site.

Glukhin alleged these authorities then used “facial-recognition technology to identify him from screenshots of the social-media site, and collected footage from closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras installed in the stations of the Moscow underground.”

In addition, he alleged they used live facial recognition technology to locate and arrest him while he was traveling in the underground.

Mr Glukhin was subsequently convicted for failure to notify the authorities of his solo demonstration and was fined roughly 283 euros.

The screenshots of the social media site and of the video recordings from the CCTV surveillance cameras were found to be used as evidence against him.

The court ruled that the use of facial recognition technology in the processing of his personal data had breached his rights under Articles 8 (right to respect for private life) and 10 (freedom of expression).

The Court noted that it was difficult for Mr Glukhin to prove his allegation that facial recognition technology had been used in his case.

However, the court found there was no other explanation for the police having identified him so quickly post-incident.

Between 2017 and 2022 more than 220,000 CCTV cameras were installed in Moscow, and all of these have live facial recognition technology capabilities.

Today’s ECJ ruling is unlikely to do a great deal to taper the use of facial recognition by governments to find wanted persons, nations such as the US, Kyrgyzstan, and India have been reported to be hunting criminals on watchlists with facial recognition.

Though controversial, and attracting widespread criticism, the use of ‘live’ facial recognition is not necessarily illegal in the EU or UK if a proper justification can be provided, such as in large events.

The EC J’s ruling was instead made on the basis of the violation of his human rights as laid down by the ECJ convention.

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