We already knew that the city of Moscow is saturated with CCTV cameras, but we’ve only just learned the extent that the city is able to conduct surveillance on its citizens.
NTechLab is a bold Russian company that is at the forefront of the most talked about technology around, facial recognition.
Their app, FindFace, which can track everyone on VKontakte, the Russian equivalent of Twitter, based on their profile, caused an outcry in and outside Russia after it was used to to identify and harass sex workers and porn actresses through their personal profiles.
Later, the company launched an emotion-reading recognition system, re-igniting concerns over the citizens’ privacy and personal data. Despite rumours, nobody really knew who’s using this state-of-the-art technology as NTechLab doesn’t disclose the identity of their clients.
Now, the city of Moscow has finally announced that since February this year it has been using facial recognition technology from NTechLab in the 160,000 CCTV cameras across the city.
Moscow’s Department of Information Technologies claims the city-wide surveillance system covers 95% of apartment building entrances in Moscow and it’s the world’s largest.
The system works just like any facial recognition network used by law enforcement in the world, just on a bigger scale.
Authorities receive a video feed from the CCTV cameras, then the facial recognition detects faces and compares them with law-enforcement databases. They can also cross-check and follow a suspect’s route thanks to multiple cameras.
Artem Ermolaev, CIO of the Department of Information Technologies of Moscow, said the system already helped officials conduct six arrests.
“The CCTV system replaced 24/7 surveillance in the areas where criminals could appear,” he told Mashable.
“They were compared with federal databases of wanted suspects. This task could not be executed without face recognition, as the human resources required were too great. The actual criminals’ locations were identified using video analytics, and later they were arrested there.”
Ermolaev says people in Moscow shouldn’t be concerned about their privacy rights.
“The system does not track every individual, it only makes it possible to perform searches under various scenarios using federal databases,” he said.
“If you are not a criminal whose photo is in the federal database, the CCTV system works in your favor, making the city safer.”
However, human rights and privacy organisations are seriously worried this system could be another, efficient tool in the hands of the authorities to crack down on political dissent.
“I remember Moscow authorities installing cameras before the protests on 12 June ,” Anastasia Kovalevskaya, Russia researcher at Amnesty International, told Mashable.
“This caused concerns that (a) recordings will be used as evidence against protesters if they act violently; and (b) people identified will face reprisals for simply participating.”
During that rally, opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny was arrested at his home and 600 people were detained in Moscow, according to ODV-Info, an independent NGO.
Agora International, a Russian human rights group, said in a recent report that the Russian authorities “continued developing the system of control over citizens” :
“The intensity of interference with information about private life and personal data is increasing, both through creation of legal conditions for gathering information and non-legal means.
Certain groups, such as journalists, activists and HRDs, are being particularly targeted.”
And as in a 1984-like dystopia, the best way to control citizens is to turn them against each other, letting them control their neighbour.
With the new system, Moscow citizens can install their own private CCTV cameras outside their home and, after getting permission from your neighbour, plug them directly into the single cloud storage facility where all the surveillance footage is held.
“The network was designed in this way in order to scale and allow plug-and-play camera support,” reads the press release.
“A feed of their neighborhood will then be streamed to the database, which can be used to investigate crimes and record legally valid evidence. For example, if there is a break-in at a residence, law enforcement officials will be able to access the footage to use for investigative purposes or as evidence in court.”
Quite creepy, isn’t it?