The Russian government continues to provide ammunition for Western critics of facial recognition technology, this time by using it to arrest scores of pro-democracy civilians.
According to a report from OVD-Info, which Radio Free Europe describes as a group monitoring “the arrests of representatives of democratic institutions, rights defenders, and opposition politicians,” at least 67 individuals were arrested on Russia Day, June 12, after being identified by facial recognition technology surveilling the Moscow metro system. Some of those arrested later reported that the police had identified them as potential protestors who could disrupt the national holiday.
Two of those arrested later told news outlets that police had framed their detention as a “preventive conversation”.
The political element of the police action has nothing to do with facial recognition, of course. But the biometric technology helped to facilitate it. Just as the technology is extolled by Western government authorities like US Customs and Border Protection for its capability of automating efforts to identify criminals and persons of interest, it is clearly just as effective when used by authoritative regimes to restrict the rights of critics and dissidents.
The development comes after the Russian government unexpectedly demanded that multiple state-owned banks hand over their customers’ biometric data for integration into the government’s Unified Biometric System, a move that exasperated at least some bank executives due to complications pertaining to their customers’ privacy.
That having been said, when it comes to facial recognition, Russia has also been shown the other end of the stick. Ukrainian officials have been using facial recognition technology provided by America’s Clearview AI to identify defeated Russian soldiers on the battlefield, and even to find and message their relatives on social media, a practice that has been described as ‘psychological warfare’.
Clearview has been derided by privacy and civil rights activists in the West for its practice of trawling the internet to compile the massive database of photos upon which its facial recognition system is based. It has also faced heavy fines from a growing roster of regulatory authorities.
Sources: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, The Moscow Times
June 13, 2022 – by Alex Perala