Moscow court case challenges city's facial recognition use after launch

MOSCOW - A Russian court on Friday heard a legal challenge to Moscow's rollout of facial recognition technology over privacy fears, after the final piece of its video surveillance jigsaw fell into place with the awarding of a software contract last month.


Moscow has stepped up its drive to launch facial recognition technology over the past year, spending or allocating at least 3.3 billion roubles ($53.3 million) on hardware for the project, the database of state purchases showed.

With Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin aiming to have 200,000 cameras across the city -- 175,000 of which are already in place -- the 12.5 million inhabitants of Russia's capital fell under the watchful eye of one of the world's most comprehensive surveillance systems when it became fully operational on Jan. 1.

On Thursday, the European Union scrapped the possibility of a ban on facial recognition technology in public spaces, according to the latest proposals seen by our source.

Lawyer and activist Alena Popova and opposition politician Vladimir Milov of the Solidarnost party filed a case against Moscow's Department of Technology (DIT), which manages the capital's video surveillance programme, seeking to ban the technology's use at mass events and protests.

The case at Tverskoy District Court is Popova's second attempt to ban facial recognition technology in Moscow after a November lawsuit was dismissed.

Popova was fined for appearing at a protest in Moscow in 2018, but she alleged that the authorities only established her identity using facial recognition technology.

On its website, the DIT says it uses video surveillance in crowded areas to "ensure safety", and that video footage is deleted within five days of an incident, unless a request by the public or law enforcement is made.

Popova alleges that the use of private data means this constitutes "illegal surveillance," but the RBC daily on Jan. 23 reported the DIT as saying its data centre does not store citizens' personal biometric data.


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