Moscow adds facial recognition payment system to more than 240 metro stations

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Moscow launched “Face Pay” on Friday, a facial recognition payment system implemented at more than 240 Mosmetro stations, “the largest use of facial recognition technology in the world,” officials say (Going through The Guardian). The service relies on stored photographs to validate payments on the metro, an obvious privacy concern given past uses of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in the Russian capital.

Face Pay requires metro users to upload a photo and connect their bank and metro cards to the Mosmetro mobile app. Once everything has been downloaded, all you need to do is look at the camera displayed above the turnstiles to arrive in time for your next train. Authorities in Moscow expect 10-15% of passengers to use Face Pay “regularly” over the next two to three years, with the hope that less time sweeping and paying for journeys will result in shorter queues and waits, and less close contact during the ongoing pandemic.

Maxim Liksutov, responsible for urban transport and road infrastructure in Moscow, with a Face Pay camera.
Photo by TASS TASS via Getty Images

That’s fine, at least conceptually. The relative convenience that biometric recognition can add to payment systems is a concept that is currently being launched in the United States through Amazon One, the shipping giant’s palm recognition technology. As The Guardian notes, the Moscow Information Technology Department claims photographs collected through official channels will not be turned over to the police and instead are securely encrypted in the GIS system ETSHD (Moscow Unified Data Storage and Processing Center).

This did not convince Russian privacy advocates, however. “This is a dangerous new step in Russia’s pressure for control of its population. We need to have full transparency on how this app will work in practice, ”said Stanislav Shakirov, founder of digital rights group Roskomsvoboda. The Guardian. “The Moscow metro is a government institution and all data can end up in the hands of the security services. “

Shakirov has good reason to be worried. Moscow’s implementation of facial recognition on its vast network of more than 10,000 CCTV cameras is more than a little frightening. Worse than the possibility of abuse by local Moscow law enforcement agencies, the system can apparently be hijacked for as little as $ 200 by enterprising hackers. This is the real risk of applying facial recognition to even more daily life in the city, not only that the government might have an easier time tracking citizens’ movements, but the system itself is a vulnerable target. for even worse abuses.


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