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11 months ago
Face For Sale: Leaks and Lawsuits Blight Russia Facial Recognition

Originally published in Reuters, Nov 9, 2020.

TBILISI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When Anna Kuznetsova saw an ad offering access to Moscow’s face recognition cameras, all she had to do was pay 16,000 roubles ($200) and send a photo of the person she wanted spying on.

The 20-year-old – who was acting as a volunteer for a digital rights group investigating leaks in Moscow’s pervasive surveillance system – sent over a picture of herself and waited.

Two days later and her phone buzzed.

The seller had forwarded the paralegal a detailed list of all the addresses in the Russian capital where she had been spotted by cameras over the previous month, her lawyers said.

“It was really incredible,” said Sarkis Darbinyan, a lawyer for Roskomsvoboda, the group behind the investigation. “We got a report of all her movements in Moscow.”

The incident is now under police investigation.

Far from an aberration, the incident is at the centre of one of several lawsuits brought in recent months by rights activists against the Russian authorities over their use of face recognition.

The rise of cloud computing and AI technologies have popularised the technology globally, with supporters saying it promises greater security and efficiency.

But the backlash is growing, too, as critics say benefits come at the cost of lost privacy and increased surveillance.

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