Praised in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, this facial recognition payment system raises fears of authoritarian abuses by organizations for the defense of freedoms.
Take the metro without money or phone
To take the metro, Muscovites will soon no longer need to take a ticket: a facial recognition system present at the turnstiles will allow them to pay automatically, without touching any surface.
Inaugurated on October 15 at some of the 240 stations in the Russian capital, this brand new technology, which allows you to pay your ticket without money, credit card or smartphone, is the pride of the municipality and the government, at the time when the Covid-19 epidemic seems to be returning to the country.
“Moscow is the first city in the world to introduce Face Pay on such a scale. The technology is new and very complex, we will continue to work to improve it ”, welcomed the mayor of the city Sergey Sobyanin.
Stating in a press release that this device was “only one means of paying among others” and would remain “voluntary”, the deputy mayor in charge of transport, Maxime Liksoutov, nevertheless hopes that it will be adopted by Muscovites. The authorities therefore expect this system to be used by 15% of public transport users within the next three years, and hope that it will not slow down the flow of travelers, especially at peak times.
Concern of NGOs defending freedoms
If the authorities have promised that the data exchanged as part of the facial recognition will be “securely encrypted” and that the turnstile camera reads a “biometric key” and not an image of the person’s face, serious concerns remain.
Several Russian and international NGOs have thus pointed out the risk of possible authoritarian abuses of power, leaks of personal data or a lack of user consent.
“This is another dangerous step in Russia’s desire to control its population,” said Stanislav Shakirov, founder of Roskomsvoboda, a group dedicated to protecting digital rights and freedom of information. We need to have full transparency on how this app will work in practice. We are getting closer to authoritarian countries like China, which masters facial technology. The Moscow Metro is a government institution and all data can end up in the hands of the security services. “
The Moscow metro is not the only one affected by this facial recognition technology. A network of more than 175,000 surveillance cameras use it throughout the capital.
Human rights activists have denounced its use, accusing Russian authorities of using it to identify activists who have attended rallies in support of jailed Vladimir Putin’s opponent, Alexei Navalny. Facial recognition is also suspected of having been used to control the Moscow population during Russian containment in spring 2020.