While you’ll soon be using facial recognition to unlock your smartphone, Russia is using the technology to spy on its citizens.
Moscow is adding facial recognition software to 170,000 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras positioned throughout the capital. The city has worked on the system for close to a year alongside NTechLabs, a Russian startup that released the popular app FindFace last year. People could take pictures of strangers and the app would figure out who was in the image by linking it to a database from Russia’s largest social network, VKontakte. The app was criticized after people used it to abuse porn stars.
Use of CCTV cameras to spy on citizens is notorious in the U.K., but Russia claims it has the largest network in the world. For the last five years, Moscow has been scrapping together millions of hours of video feeds and holding them for five days after they’re captured.
“We soon found it impossible to process such volumes of data by police officers alone,” Artem Ermolaev, head of the department of information technology in Moscow, told Bloomberg. “We needed an artificial intelligence to help find what we are looking for.”
Ermolaev said the technology was somewhere between testing and finished, and that a two-month trial resulted in six arrests of criminals who “hadn’t been caught in years.” CCTVs are aimed at more than 95 percent of the capital’s apartment buildings. The surveillance cameras scan for faces stored in a government database of criminals and can even run screenshots through the facial recognition software.
Addressing concerns of hackers gaining control of huge amounts of personal information, Ermolaev says data is kept in a closed system available to a limited number of users. He says deploying the software across all 170,000 cameras would triple operating costs, which already stand at a staggering $5 billion rubles, or about $86 million. Instead, Moscow is eyeing a limited release in some of its more crime-ridden neighborhoods.