Moscow has launched a large-scale facial recognition system for passengers of its underground train network, namely the Moscow Metro.
The system, called ‘Face Pay’, has been rolled out at more than 240 Metro stations in Russia’s capital city, triggering privacy concerns over the technology.
According to the Guardian newspaper, Face Pay is a cashless, cardless and phoneless system that utilises facial recognition to allow passengers to pay for travel.
“Now all the passengers will be able to pay for travel without taking out their phone, metro or bank card,” the Moscow mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, tweeted on Thursday evening.
The way it works, in order to activate Face Pay, passengers need to connect their photo, bank card and metro card to the service through the metro’s mobile app.
“It will be enough just to look at the camera to pass through the turnstiles,” Sobyanin reportedly said.
The Moscow authorities have said the system is voluntary, and there remains other ways to pay. But they expect up to 15 percent of metro passengers will use Face Pay regularly in the next three years, and said the system would quicken the flow of people, particularly at busy times.
“Moscow is the first in the world to introduce Face Pay on such a scale. The technology is new and very complex, we will continue to work on improving it,” the mayor added.
Authorities have said passengers’ data will be “securely encrypted”, saying the information collected will be stored in data processing centres to which only interior ministry staff have access.
However Moscow has a population of 12.7 million and the Metro system is used by 6 million people daily.
The Russian capital already has one of the world’s largest video-surveillance systems with over 175,000 surveillance cameras.
These video surveillance systems and facial recognition have reportedly been used to enforce Coronavirus quarantines, as well allowing law enforcement to make preventive arrests and detentions of protesters.
Therefore the rollout of Face Pay has triggered the concerns of privacy campaigners in the country.
“This is a dangerous new step in Russia’s push for control over its population,” Stanislav Shakirov, the founder of Roskomsvoboda, a group dedicated to protecting digital rights and freedom of information, was quoted by the Guardian as saying. “We need to have full transparency on how this application will work in practice.”
“We are moving closer to authoritarian countries like China that have mastered facial technology,” Shakirov reportedly said. “The Moscow metro is a government institution and all the data can end up in the hands of the security services,” he added.
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