Oppression in the Surveillance State that is Russia
In this screenshot from the Russian TV program, it is written that the young man who is on the escalator is one of the fugitives and the police is waiting for him at the end of the stairs
Since the announcement of partial mobilization in Russia, information has been disseminated on the Internet about the possibilities of spying on citizens leaving abroad on smartphones, as well as searching for evaders using video surveillance and face recognition systems.
Fearing being searched through social media, some potential recruits have already started changing their gender on their accounts. Some have out what technological capabilities now exist to search for people, under what conditions the authorities can use them within the framework of the current legislation, and what may change if martial law is introduced.
Can high technology help find citizens to be mobilized?
Since the announcement of partial mobilization in Russia, information has been disseminated on the Internet about the possibilities of spying on citizens leaving abroad on smartphones, as well as searching for evaders using video surveillance and face recognition systems. Fearing being searched through social media, some potential recruits have already started changing their gender on their accounts. “Kommersant” figured out what technological capabilities now exist to search for people, under what conditions the authorities can use them within the framework of the current legislation, and what could change if martial law is introduced.Expand to full screen
After the beginning of partial mobilization, reports began to appear in the media and anonymous Telegram channels that the capital’s face recognition system was being used to search for evaders. In particular, the Shot channel reported on September 28 that in this way the police detained four citizens, who were then sent to the military registration and enlistment offices.
Meanwhile, the extent to which these cases testify to the regularity and success of such a practice remains a question. The Moscow Department of Information Technology (DIT, responsible for the operation of the city’s video surveillance and face recognition system) did not answer questions about whether the face recognition system is used to search for evaders, advising to contact law enforcement agencies on this issue. The Interior Ministry did not respond to a request.
Over the past few years, Russia has consistently ranked first in the world both in terms of increasing the number of street video surveillance cameras, and in terms of their total number.
All on cameras
According to TelecomDaily, at the end of 2021, their number amounted to 18 million pieces, while only 1.12 million pieces are “cloud”, that is, the video stream from them is transmitted to the servers of data processing centers and can potentially be analyzed. The rest are used as part of local video surveillance systems. In 2022, according to the forecast of the agency, the number of cameras in the country will grow to 21 million units. Among the vendors that provide services in the field of face recognition are VisionLabs, STC, RecFaces and others.
A large number of CCTV cameras in cities does not yet indicate that they are used for facial recognition. Often, video cameras in million-plus cities either record and save video streams without any analytics, or are used for photo-video recording (PVF) of license plates on cars or searching for stolen cars (the Web system used by the traffic police).
In almost every major Russian city a face recognition system is deployed in one way or another, but it does not cover the entire city, but only parts of it: “Somewhere these are courtyards, somewhere – places mass gathering of people. But technology has reached every subject to one degree or another.” The complex system of face recognition, covering the entire city exists only in Moscow.
The Moscow authorities officially announced the launch of a face recognition system in September 2017. Even then, according to the mayor’s office, 160 thousand cameras (now, according to official data, 213 thousand) in the capital covered “95% of the entrances of residential buildings.” Year by year, the system has scaled both in terms of the number of cameras and functionality. For example, in September 2021, the head of DIT, Eduard Lysenko , proposed launching a face recognition system in metropolitan schools (later the Moscow authorities abandoned the idea), and in January 2022, Kommersant discovered a tender for the deployment of security systems with face recognition systems in territories that belong to state organization.
The Moscow City Administration plans to install additional security complexes in the city center on the territories of the State Budgetary Institution Zhilischnik with a face and license plate recognition system. The project is estimated at 16.6 million rubles. The system should ensure the security of facilities, as well as collect data for the Unified Data Storage Center (ETsHD) of Moscow, to which the police have access. Experts believe that this will, among other things, control the attraction of illegal migrants.
“Kommersant” found on the public procurement portal a tender for the installation of a face recognition system and license plates in the territories that belong to the state organization Zhilischnik. The tender was placed by the directorate of the customer of the Housing and Communal Services of the Central District on December 29, 2021, the price of the contract is 16.6 million rubles. This is the sixth similar tender since the beginning of last year, but none has been completed. The results of the latter should be summed up on January 13. It follows from the tender documentation that the contractor must install and launch a new access control and management system (ACS) for all Zhilishchnik employees, consisting of a turnstile, a barrier, video cameras and two servers at each facility. The complexes will appear, for example, on Luzhnetskaya Embankment, on Krymsky Val, under the flyover on Tsvetnoy Boulevard and at 12 other sites in the center of the capital. GBU Zhilischnik has been operating in Moscow since 2014 and provides management services in the field of housing and communal services. In addition to managing houses, his responsibilities include landscaping yard areas and public roads. According to the prefecture of the Central Administrative District, at the moment more than 11 thousand people work in the central state budgetary institution Zhilishchnik. Video cameras must recognize the faces of passing people and the license plates of passing cars, store the data and transmit it to the City Hall. The complex itself will be integrated with “cloud” accounting to obtain information about the employee: full name, date of birth, gender, photograph, as well as information about the current employment. The Department of Information Technology (DIT) of Moscow told Kommersant that the contract provides for the transfer to the ETsHD only images from CCTV cameras installed on the territory of the State Budgetary Institution Zhilischnik of the Central Administrative District: “This will allow law enforcement agencies to use cameras to search for offenders whose photographs is in the search database. The department emphasized that the face recognition system captures only the similarity of images, and the identity of the citizen is established by law enforcement officers.
Sergei Sobyanin , Mayor of Moscow, on the payment system using facial recognition through cameras on turnstiles in September 2021 ( TASS quote ):
“Take pictures, come in, we love you, we will recognize you.”
The press service of the prefecture of the Central Administrative District of Kommersant reported that the new system will increase the level of security and efficiency of the enterprise: “It provides access control and minimizes the risks of unauthorized entry, and a contactless method of access to premises is important in difficult epidemiological conditions.” The prefecture also noted that the operation of the system requires personal consent to the processing of data by employees of the State Budgetary Institution.
The terms of reference describe the protocol for transmitting data from cameras and providing access to them to the ECHD operator at the request of authorized persons, notes Vladimir Ozhereliev, senior lawyer at the Digital Rights Center: “In other words, this makes it possible to see who and when passed through the turnstile and which car passed.” According to the expert, the system will make it possible to centrally control the quality of public services and the use of illegal labor.
Zhilischnik employees will be required to hand over personal data for admission to workplaces, and then they will be transferred from DIT servers to a single biometric system (EBS), believes Igor Ashmanov, founder of Kribrum.
This data can be used not only for access, but also, for example, to recognize violators of law and order on the streets. He also believes that biometric casts, despite the assurances of the authorities, are always stored with reference to other data: full name, phone number, etc.
Taken on a personal basis
The Moscow authorities have repeatedly emphasized that the facial recognition system is primarily needed to ensure law and order and helps law enforcement agencies to detain wanted citizens. According to the DIT website, more than 7 thousand crimes were solved thanks to cameras in 2021. In 2020, during the pandemic, the authorities of the capital used these solutions to track the movements of citizens who violate the self-isolation regime.
Biometric software can simultaneously recognize a significant number of faces captured by the camera, the main condition is the quality of the resulting image and a sufficient number of “unique biometric features” for recognition, thanks to which twins can be recognized, faces in masks, glasses, recognize by age and sex characteristics. By setting special filters, among the entire array of data received, the solutions make it possible to find, for example, men from 20 to 45 years old, the source says.
Today there are no registers of evaders with a set of necessary data to search for them through the capital’s face recognition systems. “In order for police officers to gain authorized access to the metropolitan video surveillance system and be able to use it to find a person, it is necessary that this person be in the database of wanted persons,” he says. However, the interlocutor adds, “so far no one knows what will happen tomorrow.”
In addition to CCTV cameras, social networks also cause concern among citizens. Some men began to rename accounts on social networks – in particular, on VKontakte. The social network did not record a mass trend for such a change in accounts. However, the fears of users are partly justified: in 2015, a member of the city draft board, Inna Svyatenko, shared with journalists that “conscripts can be searched through social networks.” She noted that in social networks “you can track the location of the conscript, find him and hand over the summons.” “There are no regulations on how to interact with dodgers on social networks,” Ms. Svyatenko admitted at the same time.
But there are other ways to search for people via the Internet: from chats and chat bots in Telegram to specialized forums of the so-called breakthrough. Individual chats have been actively used by representatives of the hacker community since the beginning of hostilities.
After the announcement of the beginning of partial mobilization, the base with the data of the alleged recruits of the first wave began to diverge widely in the specialized Telegram channels. The file contained information about more than 300 thousand people: full names, dates of birth, addresses, series and numbers of passports. Experts noted that the base is fake and contains many errors, but at the same time it performs the task of “increasing panic among citizens.” However, the growth in the number of unreliable stuffing does not mean that genuine information ceases to be distributed on the darknet, it is just that their sellers are also counting on material rewards for information.
Breakthrough services are a more sophisticated search tool. The most popular resources are Eye of God, which has more than 66 million users, and Internet Search, which positions itself as an “analytical company for the prevention and investigation of crimes against business entities.” These services can be used by government agencies, in the case of the “Eye of God” – “if they fill out an application signed by the management.” The Internet Search also does not hide the fact that the company cooperates with both business and law enforcement agencies as part of search activities.
Ashot Hovhannisyan, founder of the DLBI data leak intelligence and darknet monitoring service, is confident that “law enforcement agencies have enough conventional resources to find everyone they need. And the first among these resources is absolutely legal access to all databases, face recognition systems and location of mobile subscribers.”
Mobile telecom operators have access to data about the location of their subscribers, which they determine from base stations. A geolocation system over a mobile network can work on the principle of determining a signal using three or more base stations, corrected for data from GPS or GLONASS in the phone. By the distance to the nearest base stations of the phone, you can quite accurately determine the location of the subscriber, while the accuracy of the determination is 2–5 m.
But this information is not publicly available. Previously, law enforcement agencies could request such information from operators only by a court decision.
During the pandemic, according to Kommersant’s sources, the Moscow authorities, along with video surveillance, used the data of mobile operators to control the self-isolation regime. The location of the residents of the city under home quarantine was tracked using the “Social Monitoring” application, which they had to install. The application accessed the user’s GPS data, thus tracking his movements, in addition, periodically required to take a selfie at home.
However, in July 2021, amendments were adopted to the Federal Law “On Operative Investigative Activities” (144-FZ), which allow you to request data on the location of the subscriber as part of operational investigative activities (ORM) within 24 hours from the start of the search. This was done, according to the assurances of the deputies, to facilitate the search for missing people. Operators must provide data within 24 hours. In addition, mobile operators and providers store all Internet traffic of their subscribers and information about calls as part of the implementation of the so-called Yarovaya Law, which was signed on July 6, 2016. Upon request, telecom operators must forward this information to the authorities.
During the pandemic, Moscow authorities, along with video surveillance, used the data of mobile operators to control the self-isolation regime. The location of the residents of the city under home quarantine was tracked using the “Social Monitoring” application, which they had to install. The application accessed the user’s GPS data, thus tracking his movements, in addition, periodically required to take a selfie at home.
Now telecom operators use geolocation information, including to search for missing people. In 2019, MegaFon, together with the Liza Alert search team, organized an automatic SMS service for potential witnesses of incidents who, according to geodata, were not far from the lost person. In the same year, VimpelCom launched the Search Center application, which allows monitoring the movements of children and the elderly in the city. The application tracks the movement of a person and has an emergency response button for a signal for help.
Right to request
Lawyers point out that military registration and enlistment offices have strictly limited powers in terms of searching for reservists.
“First of all, they use the information that they have in the database. Throughout the entire time, military registration and enlistment offices kept records of citizens liable for military service, requested information from places of work (for example, about obtaining new professions and specialties), studies, called reservists to clarify information, ”says Egor Redin, managing partner of the law firm Position of Law.
Over the past few years, Russia has consistently ranked first in the world both in terms of increasing the number of street video surveillance cameras, and in terms of their total number.
Right to request
Lawyers point out that military registration and enlistment offices have strictly limited powers in terms of searching for reservists. “First of all, they use the information that they have in the database. Throughout the entire time, military registration and enlistment offices kept records of citizens liable for military service, requested information from places of work (for example, about obtaining new professions and specialties), studies, called reservists to clarify information, ”says Egor Redin, managing partner of the law firm Position of Law.
Not all persons liable for military service come to the military registration and enlistment offices on their own. “Someone will not want, others will not receive information in connection with the change of address or contact details. But the military commissariats are not law enforcement agencies; they do not have the authority to search for citizens. This work is done by the police,” says Mr. Redin. It happens in the following way. An employee of the military registration and enlistment office sends information to the police about citizens who need to be found. After that, the police can send requests to the Federal Tax Service and the FIU to obtain information about the work of those wanted, contact employers for information, request information about the place of registration, go to the place of registration and residence, and interview neighbors, explains Yegor Redin.
If a criminal case has not been initiated, then the request can be made in some other cases, says Kirill Stepanov, including “if there is information about actions that pose a threat to the state, military, economic, information or environmental security of the Russian Federation.”
You can also request data directly from Roskomnadzor. According to the law “On Communications”, upon request, telecom operators must provide information about subscribers to Roskomnadzor. Such information, Mr. Stepanov points out, includes: full name, place of residence, date of birth, telephone number, information about the functioning of SIM cards (that is, information about the location of the means by which connections are made between subscribers or users of communication services, about the facts transmission or receipt of voice information, text messages, images, sounds, video or other messages, information about the amount of information transmitted or received, the dates and times of their transmission and receipt).
At the same time, Art. 63 of the Law “On Communications” establishes the secrecy of correspondence, calls, messages transmitted over telecommunication networks. In this regard, the right of the police to receive information from mobile operators, social networks, IT companies, food delivery services depends on what kind of data is requested, lawyers say.
By virtue of h. 2 Article. 8 of Law 144-FZ, carrying out ORM (including obtaining computer information) that restricts the constitutional rights of a person and a citizen to the secrecy of correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraphic and other messages transmitted over electrical and postal networks, as well as the right to inviolability of the home, requires prior authorization of the court. It can be issued in several cases, explains Kirill Stepanov: within the framework of criminal proceedings (for example, control and recording of negotiations; inspection and seizure of electronic, postal and telegraphic messages, if the information is relevant to the criminal case), as part of the FSB measures to combat terrorism, within the framework of ORM.
However, sometimes the restriction of the secrecy of communication (interception of telephone calls, control of messages) is possible without a court decision, on the basis of a decision by the head of the body carrying out operational-search activities. “Such cases include urgent circumstances that can lead to the commission of a grave or especially grave crime, if there is evidence of events and actions that pose a threat to the state, military, economic, informational or environmental security of the Russian Federation. And after the issuance of such a decision within 48 hours, the body must notify the court about this, ”specifies Mr. Stepanov.
As part of the search for citizens who are not fulfilling military duty, the internal affairs bodies have the right to obtain data not related to secret correspondence without a court decision, for example, from a telecom operator about the geolocation of a person or from a food delivery service about his address, the head of the De- jure” Nikita Filippov. “Nevertheless, the legal status of geolocation data is not specified in the legislation,” the lawyer continues. “For this reason, some telecom and information system operators refuse to provide such information without motivated grounds (an initiated criminal case or a court decision).”
No crimes account
Information about partial mobilization also provoked the withdrawal of funds from bank accounts. In particular, the Association of Banks of Russia noted: “In a period of unrest and misunderstanding, many citizens always prefer to withdraw part of their funds from bank accounts and keep them in cash.” However, the interlocutor of Kommersant in the fintech segment notes that citizens who fall under the mobilization criteria are afraid that they can be tracked by payments.
According to part 5 of Art. 26 of the law on banks, certificates on transactions, accounts and deposits of individuals are issued by credit institutions only on the basis of a court decision, which can be obtained by the authorities carrying out ORM (for example, the Department of Internal Affairs, the FSB). Moreover, in court, such bodies must prove the existence of information about the signs of prepared, committed or committed crimes by the person on whom information is requested, emphasizes Kirill Stepanov.
Rules of the game
The legislation does not provide grounds for blocking the accounts of persons evading mobilization, regardless of the fact that they received a summons to the military registration and enlistment office, says Kirill Stepanov, partner at the legal agency Kaminskiy, Stepanov & Partners. Reservist accounts may be seized by a court order in criminal proceedings. “If the mobilization evader is a suspect in a crime, then his accounts can be arrested. But there will be no freezing of bills for failure to appear on the agenda at the military enlistment office, since only administrative liability is provided for this, ”Mr. Stepanov points out. However, Yegor Redin, managing partner of the law firm Position of Law, believes that the very failure to appear on a duly served summons, even on a summons in order to clarify information, may serve as a basis for initiating a criminal case. But so far, lawyers have not heard about criminal cases in connection with the failure to appear at the military registration and enlistment office.
If the situation changes
Lawyers remind that in some cases the organization of video surveillance at certain public sites is mandatory. Among them are railway stations, airports, hospitals, police stations. “These are places of public importance and those where a large number of people gather. Video surveillance is also widespread on the main streets of the city, in the subway, at stops in order to prevent terrorist attacks, as well as other illegal acts, ”explains Kirill Stepanov.
“There is no fundamental ban on the use of CCTV cameras to identify and search for citizens in the law. Considering that the activities to search for mobilized citizens are carried out on the basis of 144-FZ, the powers of the internal affairs bodies may also cover such activities, ”admits Nikita Filippov.
At the same time, Yegor Redin believes that the police have the right to use the face recognition system after all, if there is a criminal case. Kirill Stepanov is of the same opinion: “Theoretically, the face recognition system can work to search for mobilized, but not any. Most likely, we are talking about those who are hiding from the draft and against whom a criminal case has been initiated.”
If martial law is introduced in the country, Mr. Stepanov believes, the existing video surveillance and facial recognition systems in cities can be used to ensure control over the population and establish the location of persons in order to comply with the decree on martial law. Also, the most likely development of events, says Nikita Filippov, may be the removal of the requirement to obtain a court sanction to request information that falls under the secrecy of correspondence, as well as the restriction of the right to inviolability of the home.
Formally, the law on martial law does not contain any features regarding additional measures to search for draft dodgers, says Yegor Redin, it only expands the powers of government agencies and imposes new restrictions on citizens, primarily related to public order.