Inside Safe City, Moscow’s AI Surveillance Dystopia

“Out of [an] From a technical point of view, it’s very interesting to work with: it’s very difficult,” he says.

After the release of FindFace, NTechLab began selling its facial recognition technology to small businesses like shopping malls, which could use it to catch shoplifters or see how many people were returning to certain stores. But NTechLab also worked with the Moscow Department of IT Technology (DIT), the government agency tasked with building Moscow’s digital infrastructure. In 2018, when Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup, NTechLab’s facial recognition technology was connected to more than 450 surveillance cameras across Moscow, and its technology reportedly helped police arrest 180 people whom the state identified as “wanted criminals”. ” looked at.

Initially, Moscow’s facial recognition system was fed official watch lists such as the wanted person database. The system uses these lists to alert police as soon as a person is detected on the list, but law enforcement can also upload an image and search where a person has appeared. Over the years, security and law enforcement agencies have compiled a database of political opposition leaders and prominent activists, according to Sarkis Darbinyan, co-founder of the Roskomsvoboda digital rights group, which has campaigned for the technology to be suspended. It remains unclear who is responsible for putting activists and protesters on watch lists.

In March 2019, following the success of the World Cup process — some of Russia’s “most wanted” people were arrested trying to attend games — Moscow’s Transport Ministry, which runs the city’s metro, launched its own surveillance system, Sfera . According to Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, as of October 2019, 3,000 of the city’s 160,000 cameras were equipped with facial recognition technology.

NTechLab was one of many companies that built a series of systems that would later be dubbed Safe City. International companies, from US tech companies such as Nvidia, Intel and Broadcom to South Korea’s Samsung and Chinese camera maker Hikvision, have partnered with local firms such as HeadPoint, Netris and Rostelecom, which have developed various components of the surveillance systems. According to procurement documents cited by Britain’s BBC, in addition to NTechLab, three companies have developed facial recognition technology for Moscow’s growing surveillance apparatus, including Tevian, Kipod and VisionLabs. Moscow’s Transport Ministry said in social media posts that Sfera was built with VisionLabs technology, though the company downplayed its involvement.

NtechLab states that it operates in accordance with local laws and has no access to customer data or camera video streams. Nvidia and Intel say they will leave Russia in 2022, with Nvidia adding that it is not developing software or algorithms for surveillance. Broadcom and Samsung also say they ceased operations in Russia after the invasion. VisionLabs says it only powers the Moscow Metro with its facial recognition payment system. Other companies did not respond to requests for comment. The DIT and the Moscow Ministry of Transport did not respond to requests for comment.

In late 2018, as Russia cracked down on political dissent online and on the streets, the DIT began to change, says a former staffer who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. According to Andrey Soldierov, an investigative journalist and expert on Russian security services, departments used to be just the “technicians” supporting security services, with the Moscow government recruiting highly paid IT specialists to develop the most efficient systems. But, according to the former employee, the DIT gradually began to reflect the Kremlin’s authoritarian leanings. Inside Safe City, Moscow’s AI Surveillance Dystopia

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