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'Cybergulag': Russia looks to surveillance technology to enforce lockdown

Guardian Technology 02 Apr 2020 04:20
Russian police officers patrol an almost empty Arbat street in Moscow on Thursday. Photograph: Kirill Zykov/AP

Russia is considering aggressive new surveillance methods as the country seeks to enforce mandatory shelter-in-place orders in cities including Moscow and St Petersburg and other regions across its 11 time zones.

While the details of the new monitoring system have not been confirmed, official statements and leaked plans have indicated they could include mobile apps that track users’ location, CCTV cameras with facial recognition software, QR codes, mobile phone data and credit card records.

The hastily developed patchwork to monitor individuals’ movements could tell authorities whether Russians had broken coronavirus lockdowns for reasons other than those allowed: seeking medical care, visiting the grocery store, the pharmacy, or traveling to an authorised job. Leaked plans indicate that parts of the system may go online this weekend.

While there remain questions about whether the technology is viable, opposition politicians have warned that the government is laying the groundwork for a “cybergulag,” with a new system of enhanced surveillance that could remain active even after the current crisis passes.

On the same day, Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, signed legislation that would allow city authorities to identify and fine people who had violated the shelter-at-home order. Supporters said that the law would maintain public safety during the coronavirus outbreak, while opponents said it gave the government dangerous powers.

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MoscowSergei Sobyanin
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