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Coronavirus: Moscow deploys facial recognition to enforce self-isolation

Moscow authorities have deployed facial recognition software to police new self-isolation rules imposed on Russian citizens returning from China amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The city’s mayor warned on Friday (21 February) that Moscow residents who ignore orders to remain at home or in their hotel room will be tracked down using the surveillance technology.

So far around 2,500 people returning from China to Moscow have been forced to self-quarantine, while the Russian government has issued a temporary ban on Chinese visitors.

In a statement posted to his website, the mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, said: “Compliance with the regime is constantly monitored, including with the help of facial recognition systems and other technical measures.”

It is believed to be one of the first cases of a government using facial recognition software to force citizens to self-quarantine.

The European Commission confirmed earlier this week that it had dropped a proposal to ban live facial recognition, which has already been rolled out in France, Germany and a number of other member states.

The Commission mooted plans to force developers of the software to train it on European user data before it is deployed within the EU. But the proposal, which has been detailed in a series of proposals designed to encourage the adoption of “responsible” AI, attracted fierce criticism from privacy experts.

Dr Michael Veale, a lecturer in Digital Rights and Regulation at UCL’s Faculty of Laws, said that “the core problem with facial recognition is not bias, but power”. He added: “Turning the conversation about facial recognition to one about bias in accuracy implies that the aim is a perfect and complete surveillance regime, which can be co-opted to identify and persecute anybody, with all the bias imaginable.”