Status: 07/07/2022 03:30
You can now pay by facial recognition in the Moscow metro. What appears to be a technological convenience is actually used in Russia for repression.
Convenient, contactless, fast – this is how the Moscow public transport company announces “FacePay”, payment by facial recognition.
Anyone who has previously checked in online with their biometric data and bank details only has to look briefly at the camera of the corresponding terminal at the entrance to the metro station – and the barrier will open. The amount of the trip is automatically debited from the account.
Cameras do not serve the customer
It’s a nice gadget. In practice, however, this is only of secondary importance. Above all, cameras equipped with facial recognition software are not at the service of customers, but of authorities.
“They don’t hide it. Basically, they say quite openly that they recognize faces with these technologies,” explains Darija Korolenko, lawyer at the civil rights platform OVD-Info. The organization is known for recording arrests and documenting, among other things, increased state repression. Employees receive the information from the data subjects themselves, who contact OVD-Info via a hotline or a chat bot.
People write to us: “I was arrested on the subway” – and report that the police either pointed the facial recognition system – or a database where the person is said to be. They don’t explain what kind of database it is. But sometimes it is said that the person in question has already participated in demonstrations and is being arrested as a result. Or she was active on the internet and that’s why she is now arrested.
Especially the opponents of the war affected
The lawyer explains that this mainly affects those who have taken a stand against the war in Ukraine in any way. In Russia, this can only be described as a “special military operation”, and even the smallest form of protest can have legal consequences. According to OVD-Info, arrests in the metro were especially frequent on the holidays of May 9 and June 12 – “Victory Day” and “Russia Day”.
…because the police believed that demonstrations would take place on those days. And so that these people do not return there, they have already been arrested as a preventive measure.
Their biometric characteristics, concludes Darija Korolenko, should have been registered beforehand and – including a note – entered into the said database.
It depends on the application of the technology
The real problem is neither the database itself nor the software used to recognize and compare faces, says computer expert and internet activist Mikhail Klimarew.
The technology is basically the same in all countries. But the application is of course different. And in authoritarian states like Russia, Iran and China, security forces now enjoy full and totally unchecked access. And when they really have great power, it’s a very dangerous thing.
According to Klimarew, what he calls the “surveillance bubble” will continue to grow in the future. And so the IT expert doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the mask requirement in the Moscow metro was abolished shortly after the start of the first anti-war protests, during which the police suppressed them. from the start. “Now we can see your smile more often”; was written on a large digital screen at the time. About a minute later, an advertisement flashed on the screen – for the use of “FacePay”, a convenient payment by facial recognition.