Government authorities in Russia are planning to expand their use of biometric surveillance in areas near the border with Ukraine, according to a new report from The Moscow Times.
Citing an article in the Russian-language Kommersant, the Times reports that the directive is coming from Russia’s Emergencies Ministry, and is being framed as a response to ‘terrorist’ activity in the wake of the Russian invasion (dubbed a ‘special operation’ in Russian propaganda). The effort is being presented as an expansion of Moscow’s ‘Safe City’ program, which has seen the deployment of surveillance cameras backed by facial recognition in places like the Moscow metro.
In addition to facial recognition, the Safe City surveillance platform includes support for weapon and accident detection, among other computer vision capabilities.
Russian authorities are looking to bring the system to annexed Crimea and the Krasnodar, Voronezh, and Belgorod regions over the course of the next 18 months. A key supplier of electronics devices used in the platform, Roselectronica, has suffered shortages, though the issue is expected to be resolved over the year-and-a-half implementation period, according to the report.
The effort offers another illustration of an ethical tension inherent to government use of biometric surveillance technologies. Western law enforcement authorities like US Customs and Border Protection have found tremendous value in using facial recognition to arrest fugitives and other criminals at border crossings, for example, helping to maintain the rule of law; but Russian authorities recently used face-scanning Metro cameras to enable them to conduct mass arrests of pro-democracy advocates during the recent Russia Day celebrations.
Commenting to Kommersant, a Russian government source was quoted as saying that the need to expand Safe City to the border areas “has become extremely urgent during the special operation in Ukraine in view of markedly increased threats of sabotage on civilian infrastructure.”
Ukraine, for its part, has used facial recognition technology provided by the American company Clearview AI to identify Russian soldiers who have been captured or killed in the conflict, proceeding in at least some cases to notify relatives of their fates.
In addition to highlighting the ethical paradox of government surveillance, the expansion effort also helps to illustrate the intensifying geopolitical aspect of AI technologies and facial recognition in particular. As detailed in a recent ID Tech feature, a policy brief for the European Council on Foreign Relations published last month called on the European Union to enhance its digital capabilities as part of its broader effort to “counter Chinese and Russian influence in the technology realm.”
Source: The Moscow Times
June 20, 2022 – by Alex Perala