Russia's use of facial recognition challenged in court

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CCTV camerasImage source, Getty Images
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Moscow has plans to expand the use of facial recognition

Russia's increasing use of facial recognition technology is being challenged by a civil rights activist in court.

Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin said earlier this month that live facial recognition cameras were operating "on a mass scale" in the city.

This, argues Alyona Popova, poses a threat to privacy and human rights.

She is being supported in her case by politician Vladimir Milov and civil rights group Amnesty.

The case is due to be held at the Tverskoy District Court of Moscow, and the complainants will seek to prohibit the use of facial recognition technology at mass gatherings, and demand that the authorities delete all stored personal data previously collected at such events.

"Facial recognition technology is by nature deeply intrusive, as it enables the widespread and bulk monitoring, collection, storage and analysis of sensitive personal data without individualised reasonable suspicion," said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International Russia's Director.

"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 added.

"It is telling that the Russian government has provided no explanation as to how it will ensure the right to privacy and other human rights, nor has it addressed the need for public oversight of such powerful technologies."

The government has defended its use of the technology, saying it is a useful addition to its crime-fighting arsenal.

Ms Popova has previously attempted to sue the Moscow police and information technology department, after she was fined for taking part in a protest in the capital last year.

She claimed authorities used a facial recognition system to identify her without consent but a court dismissed her case in November, saying there was no proof that facial recognition was used.

Moscow has around 160,000 CCTV cameras in operation in the city, and this month expanded the number using live facial recognition.

Local media reported that the Moscow Department of Information Technology has signed a deal with Russian firm Ntechlab, to provide the technology.

The firm previously developed controversial app FindFace, which allowed users to photograph people in a crowd and work out their identities by tapping into social network vkontakte, known as Russia's Facebook.

The service was ended in 2018, with the firm saying it was concentrating its future efforts on face recognition solutions for "government and business".