Facial Recognition Tech May Be Being Used Against Russian Protestors

With massive protests across the country, activists fear Russia is using facial recognition technology to contain dissent.

Following nationwide protests on January 31, several people reported on social media that they were arrested by police after underground and road surveillance cameras identified them as protesters. Countries around the world are using facial recognition technology to monitor cities, leading to fears of possible abuse.

For the past two weekends, Russians have protested the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who recently returned to Russia after being poisoned. Navalny built a nationwide political movement in Russia by exposing corruption among senior officials in the country.

His latest investigation, published on YouTube after his arrest, reveals a luxurious palace allegedly owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Putin denies that he owned the property.)

Authorities have responded to the protests with mass arrests, beatings, prosecutions of protesters and, apparently, some new surveillance methods.

Well-known photographer George Malets wrote on Facebook that he was arrested on January 31st in the Moscow subway. Malets told CoinDesk that the police officers at the police station had mentioned a “Face ID” system that was used to search for people.

He added that he overheard people saying they were arrested for being spotted by street cameras at the previous protest rally on Jan. 23.

“From what I’ve heard from police officers talking to each other, there was a mass search yesterday,” Malets said. “Apparently they were looking for someone who was at least close to the rally.”

The officials asked Malets if he was present at the rally, he wrote on his Facebook post, and were not convinced by his words that he went to the rally as a journalist to take pictures. During the rally, police arrested journalists and protesters despite wearing green press vests.

Lawyer Mikhail Biryukov arrested his client Kamil Galeev, a historian, at his home yesterday. Street cameras captured Galeev during the January 23 protest, according to the lawyer. To identify him, the police used photos from Galeev’s passport and social networks.

Rapper Samariddin Rajabov also tweeted yesterday that he was locked in the subway. Moscow metro stations have recently been fitted with video cameras, some of which are placed on the turnstiles at the entrance.

The city council announced last year that these cameras would use facial recognition software to bill passengers for entrance fees and to locate people “in need of medical attention” for express assistance.

The Moscow government plans to spend $ 33 million this year on expanding video surveillance in the outskirts of Moscow.