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Moscow metro facial ID payment system raises privacy concerns, rights group says

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A new facial recognition payment system on the Moscow metro, due to be launched this year, raises concerns about privacy and human rights, a Russian digital rights group said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: A passenger rides an escalator at a metro station, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Moscow, Russia April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

Moscow has one of the world’s largest video-surveillance systems. It has used the technology to enforce COVID-19 quarantines and thwart would-be protesters from attending rallies in January in support of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

From the end of 2021, the metro will make the Face Pay system operational at turnstiles and ticket machines, the head of the metro’s security service, Andrei Kichigin, said, according to Interfax news agency report earlier this week.

The metro says the payment system will quicken the flow of people, particularly at busy times, and that its wider network of around 5,000 facial recognition cameras at turnstiles only threatens criminals.

“The facial recognition system knows no surnames, first names, or any other personal details,” Kichigin said in video footage filmed on Monday and shared with Reuters, adding that only wanted people are included in the database.

“Information is stored in a data processing centre that only interior ministry staff have access to,” Kichigin said.

The metro said it was too soon to give details on how data from the Face Pay system would be stored because it was still in the testing phase.

Concerns over which officials have access to that database and how any information might be used raised privacy and human rights concerns, said Sarkis Darbinyan, head of the legal department at Roskomsvoboda, a group dedicated to protecting digital rights and freedom of information.

“(Face Pay) is undoubtedly dual-use technology, which can be used on the one hand for the convenient use of transport, but on the other hand, for surveillance and capturing people’s personal data,” Darbinyan said.

“Law enforcement officials, who no one controls, will have access to these [facial recognition] video cameras, so naturally there will be cases of abuse, tracking and some kind of political repression,” he said.

Editing by Edmund Blair