Russia to Catalogue Foreigners in Police Biometric Database

A Ukrainian border guard scans fingerprints of a Russian citizen crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border on the checkpoint of Goptivka, near Kharkiv, on January 3, 2018. Ukraine introduced biometric control for Russian citizens and those of 69 other countries starting from January 1 claiming a significant number of illegal migrants enter …
SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images

The Russian Interior Ministry told state media on Saturday that it plans to create a national biometric database over the next three years that can identify both Russian citizens and foreign nationals using facial recognition, fingerprints, and genetic data. 

Russia’s state-run Tass news agency quoted an Interior Ministry source who said the biometric identification system has been in development since 2014 when Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev proposed linking fingerprints and other biometrics with vehicle registrations, professional licensing, and other databases through artificial intelligence software. 

Moscow rolled out one of the largest facial recognition systems in the world on January 1, 2020, prompting privacy activists to begin painting their faces in an effort to defeat it. The Interior Ministry said it would add tattoos, iris scans, and voice recognition to the system by the end of 2021. The police said in February they were testing software that could identify people through Moscow’s 170,000 video cameras by the way they walked.

The Moscow Times noted on Monday that the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB) gained the legal power to access the biometric data Russian banks maintain about their customers in 2017. This data currently includes facial images and voice recordings and could expand to include palm scans, fingerprint scans, and iris recognition in the near future.

Russia’s RT.com on Monday claimed Moscow’s vast and growing surveillance system “enjoys support from the majority of Muscovites” — aside from the odd malcontent, such as a woman who sued the mayor’s office this year after she discovered she could easily purchase her own leaked biometric bank data from hackers on the dark web for about two hundred dollars.

“In September it was revealed that the technology would be rolled out throughout the country, with 10 large cities due to receive thousands of CCTV cameras,” RT.com said.

The Kremlin released a policy document in March that said it would collect an increasing amount of biometric data about foreign nationals over the next five years. The plan referred to the need for biometric registration of immigrants, guest workers, and visiting foreign nationals in the interest of public health, although it did not explicitly cite the coronavirus pandemic. The Kremlin also expressed its desire to favor immigration from countries that have “positive social ties to Russia,” with a “similar mentality and culture.”

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