The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs is moving forward with plans for a massive biometric database that will include the fingerprints and facial images of Russian citizens and foreign nationals. The government is hoping that the database will help Russian authorities identify individuals more quickly, whether those people are criminals on a wanted list or dead bodies that need to be named to allow an investigation to proceed.
The Ministry will spend the next three years building the custom software needed for the system. The new database will supplement the Ministry’s Federal Biometric Information System, which was announced earlier this year and will debut with a pilot at the end of 2021. The multimodal system will use face, voice, iris, and tattoo recognition, and possibly gait recognition, to identify criminals in video surveillance footage.
In that regard, it is worth noting that the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service (FSB) does have the ability to collect biometric data without consent in Russia, thanks to a 2017 law that gave the agency unrestricted access to the face and voice data of bank customers. The law could likely be extended to iris, fingerprint, and palm biometrics, while the new database will also include genetic information.
Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the Minister of Internal Affairs, first proposed the biometric database in 2014. He has suggested that it should contain vehicle and forensic records in addition to DNA. The Russian public has expressed support for facial recognition, though there are some major security concerns after digital rights advocates uncovered a pay-for-play scheme that gives everyday civilians access to Moscow’s extensive facial recognition network for a mere 16,000 rubles (around $200).
The proposed Russian database is similar in scope to the HART database currently being built by the US Department of Homeland Security. The agency has asked for an exemption from the Privacy Act, and is planning to store fingerprint, face, iris, voice, and DNA biometrics. It is also trying to push through a policy proposal that would give the agency more power to collect biometric data from immigrants and US citizens.
November 23, 2020 – by Eric Weiss