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Watchdog Warns About 'Chilling Effect' Of Russia’s Use Of Facial-Recognition Technology

CCTV cameras on a building in Moscow
CCTV cameras on a building in Moscow

Amnesty International has criticized Russia’s plans to broaden the use of widespread facial-recognition systems, saying their expected deployment during public gatherings will “inevitably have a chilling effect” on protesters.

The London-based human rights watchdog issued the call on January 31, as a Moscow court was set to hear a complaint against the use of such technologies to crack down on peaceful protests.

Facial-recognition technology is “by nature deeply intrusive,” Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International Russia’s director, said in a statement.

“In the hands of Russia’s already very abusive authorities, and in the total absence of transparency and accountability for such systems, it is a tool which is likely to take reprisals against peaceful protest to an entirely new level,” she warned.

In recent years, Russia has emerged as a leading force in the development of facial-recognition technology, amid what Kremlin critics and rights activists called persistent efforts to silence civil society and suppress dissenting voices against President Vladimir Putin.

On January 31, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court was due to begin consideration of a complaint submitted by human rights activist Alyona Popova and opposition politician Vladimir Milov, who are seeking to prohibit the use of facial-recognition technology at rallies and delete all stored personal data previously collected.

In November 2019, a separate court in Moscow refused to examine Popova’s claims that her right to privacy was undermined by the establishment of the capital’s video surveillance system.

Popova, a Moscow lawyer and prominent women's rights activist, said she was inspired to launch the lawsuit after learning that facial-recognition cameras had been used to identify her during a 2018 protest.

She was subsequently fined after a court ruled that she had violated Russia's strict legislation on public gatherings.

The face-recognition system covering the whole Moscow underground transportation network is expected to be fully operational by September.

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