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HomeWorldIn Moscow’s technological advances, a ‘double-edged sword’

In Moscow’s technological advances, a ‘double-edged sword’

The Moscow Metro — a world-class marvel of environment friendly mass transportation because it opened in 1935 — made headlines final month with a really Twenty first-century innovation: a cost system that doesn’t require passengers to provide a ticket, a transit card, a smartphone or a contactless financial institution card. All they need to do is present their face.

By Oct. 15, the facial recognition system, known as Face Pay, was up and operating at about 240 stations on the Moscow Metro, a sprawling and continually increasing system well-known for its on-time observe report and its grandiose and ornate stations.

Moscow metropolis officers have been fast to tout the system’s newest technological innovation, one among a number of over the past decade. “There are not any analogues of Face Pay when it comes to high quality and ease of use for a passenger anyplace on this planet,” stated Maksim Liksutov, deputy mayor for transport.

To activate Face Pay, passengers should join their picture with a financial institution card and the Metro’s Troika, or transit card, through a particular cell app. As soon as linked, a digital camera on the turnstiles identifies their faces (even with masks on) and opens the gates. In idea, it ought to take two to a few seconds for a passenger to clear the turnstile, easing the crush of individuals at peak rush hours.

It is likely one of the most seen — and controversial — of town’s initiatives to modernize its companies, one which takes full benefit of advancing biometric expertise and the talents of a brand new era of Russian pc engineers. “The expertise is new and really complicated, we are going to proceed to work on bettering it,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin stated in an announcement.

However digital privateness activists in Russia have been fast to boost the alarm, noting that the brand new system isn’t just about bettering service on the Moscow Metro. “It’s a good pretext to place cameras on the turnstiles,’’ stated Artyom Koslyuk, a director at Roskomsvoboda, a digital rights group primarily based in Moscow. “This may enable them to good the algorithms used for the popularity of faces.”

In keeping with Koslyuk, Moscow ranks third on this planet for probably the most surveillance on streets and public transport, with some 200,000 cameras positioned across the metropolis and on the Metro to assist police establish criminals and stop crime. Russian police have already used facial recognition to search out and arrest demonstrators who participated in peaceable opposition protests.

The 2 different international locations which have gone forward with facial recognition cost methods are China and Belarus, the place privateness rights are additionally of little concern to the federal government. (In Belarus, the facial recognition system on the Minsk metro known as Look and Go.) In distinction, the European Parliament voted final month in favor of a nonbinding decision to ban use of facial recognition expertise in public locations for police functions.

Moscow officers have tried to calm issues about privateness invasion by insisting that the pictures and knowledge collected are “securely encrypted.’’ Roskomsvoboda, although, stated they’ve uncovered proof that the system is porous, susceptible to intruders who can use the info and pictures for prison functions.

Privateness advocates are pushing for a extra clear system of management for this and different superior, and infrequently intrusive, applied sciences. “We have to make sure that all these improvements are used to assist the individuals, not hurt them,” Koslyuk stated.

Face Pay is a part of a broader set of efforts within the metropolis to institute technological options. Moscow is undoubtedly Russia’s “smartest” metropolis, not least as a result of it’s the nation’s capital, and a spotlight of presidency consideration. Its 12.5 million individuals make it the second most populous metropolis in Europe — and it’s rising. Between 2002 and 2010, whereas Russia’s inhabitants decreased by 1.2%, Moscow’s grew by 10.9%. And the typical wage within the capital is nearly double the nationwide common.

The capital additionally will get royal remedy from the federal authorities. In 2019, Moscow’s city renewal finances equaled that of the remainder of the nation.

“Moscow has the facility when it comes to finance and budgets,” stated Sergei Kamolov, a professor on the prestigious Moscow State Institute of Worldwide Relations. “Moscow is within the avant-garde, a take a look at case for all completely different sorts of methods.”

Two years in the past, Russia adopted its personal system for rating its “sensible cities,” measuring what known as their “IQ stage.” This offers bench marks for cities to measure progress in placing fashionable strategies and digital companies in place for his or her inhabitants. Kamolov stated these are helpful instruments to strain native officers to fulfill targets set in a nationwide “Good Cities” program.

Kamolov, who’s member of a working group on the “Good Cities” program, cautions that its concepts and applied sciences aren’t simply duplicated from metropolis to metropolis. Nor, he stated, do fancy new applied sciences essentially impact the residents’ high quality of life. “It appears to me that ‘Good Cities’ is a deep advertising and marketing idea,” he stated in a phone interview.

Lately, Russia has put a significant nationwide effort into its e-government companies. Earlier than the 2018 World Cup, Russia developed a system of e-visas, permitting vacationers to come back into the nation for a restricted time and for a restricted goal. And like many international locations, it has developed a well-liked on-line authorities portal — generally known as Gosuslugi, a one-stop web site the place residents can retrieve paperwork, pay fines and make appointments. In a 2020 United Nations e-government survey, Russia’s companies ranked thirty sixth out of 193 international locations.

On this, as in different areas, Moscow leads the way in which. Extra Muscovites use Gosuslgi proportionately than another area of Russia — not stunning given its focus of younger, educated and pc literate individuals. However different areas are stepping up efforts to catch up, by providing particular programs for pc literacy, particularly for the aged.

Moscow and 6 different areas have been additionally used as a take a look at case for Russia’s experiment with on-line voting in final September’s parliamentary elections. The system was challenged by democracy protesters, who described it as a “black field” that allowed the federal government to fiddle with the vote. Setting apart the contested outcomes — an enormous caveat, to make certain — on-line voting did its job, at the least on a technical stage.

Moscow has launched different digital companies in well being care, in colleges and within the authorized system, however transportation continues to obtain a hefty share of town’s modernization finances.

In keeping with Kamolov, Moscow has the most important fleet of digital buses in Europe whereas the Metro — which now strikes about 6 million passengers on weekdays (down from greater than 8 million within the pre-COVID period) — nonetheless instructions a big portion of public funds: $27 billion for enlargement and enchancment from 2011 to 2022, most of it for enlargement however a few of it undoubtedly for the facial recognition system that’s now anticipated to be launched in different Russian cities.

At Roskomsvoboda, Koslyuk says the important thing to introducing superior digital companies that rely upon private knowledge is belief. ‘‘We must be certain there are controls,” he stated. “These enhancements could be a double-edged sword.”

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