The Russian government has been using a network of 100,000 facial recognition cameras to keep track of individuals that have been ordered to quarantine for 14 days.
The cameras are a part of a network that has been the subject of much public outcry and concern, with fears they were being used to suppress criticism and identify protesters.
Russian laws say anyone returning from a foreign visit or anyone who has been in contact with an infected person must be confined to their homes for a period of 14 days. Those who break quarantine risk a potential five-year prison sentence, or deportation for foreigners.
“We are constantly checking that this regulation is being observed, including through the use of automated facial recognition systems,” wrote Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin in a blog post in February.
The camera network is linked to a purpose-built COVID-19 control center that uses artificial intelligence to identify an individual captured leaving their home and identify whether they are authorized to do so. Moscow police say the system has already led to the identification of almost 200 violations of quarantine.
In addition to the cameras, the high-tech facility — which was toured by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week — is used to monitor supermarket shelves in real-time, conduct telemedicine consultations, and identify and remove what are deemed ‘false news stories’ from social media.
Moscow already had a network of 170,000 security cameras in place well before the pandemic hit that had been set up throughout the city over the past decade, with 100,000 of them already connected to the control center’s AI network and the remaining 70,000 expected to be added soon.
With just over 1,800 confirmed cases and nine deaths reported in Russia to date — most of them found in Moscow — the country has fared better than most of the other highly populated nations in the world including the U.S., where a more relaxed public approach to physical distancing has led to over 145,000 cases and more than 2,500 deaths thus far.
An online petition launched last year opposing the camera network by rights activist and lawyer Alyona Popova had received close to 75,000 signatures prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The massive use of facial recognition technology amounts to state surveillance of its citizens and the state will certainly use it against political opponents,” she said at the time.
March 30, 2020 – by Tony Bitzionis