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Moscow Using Facial Recognition to Enforce Coronavirus Quarantine of 2,500 Travelers from China

Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, in a file photo from 2018
Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, in a file photo from 2018
Photo: Getty Images

Moscow is using facial recognition technology to enforce a quarantine on thousands of people who arrived in Russia from China, over fears of the new coronavirus that has killed over 2,000 people worldwide, according to a new report from the Moscow Times. The news comes as the virus, which causes an illness dubbed COVID-19, continues to spread more rapidly outside of China, and as Russia comes under increased scrutiny for its use of facial recognition tech.

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Russia partially shut down its border with China on Thursday, banning most Chinese nationals from entering the country, but there are at least 2,500 people currently in Moscow who have been instructed to self-quarantine for two weeks. And Russian authorities aren’t afraid of using drastic measures to keep those people in check.

The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, announced the deployment of facial recognition tech for quarantine purposes on his website Friday and explained that authorities would be conducting “raids at places of possible residence (hotels, dorms, private apartments)” to find Chinese nationals who arrived before the border was closed.

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“Conducting raids is an unpleasant challenge, but they are necessary for, among others, the potential virus carriers themselves,” Sobyanin wrote.

Sobyanin laid out different ways that people have been violating the quarantine order in Moscow, noting that some of the people they’re monitoring are residing in apartment buildings with as many as 600 people.

From Sobyanin’s website (translated by Gizmodo to English):

A few days ago a resident of China came to Moscow. In the airport she was tested for coronavirus and received orders for a two-day isolation.

She tested positive. I will tell you right away — that was a lab mistake. But we didn’t know that at the time. Immediately, a brigade of emergency medical services was dispatched to her rental apartment, and the woman was hospitalized into the infection ward.

Her neighbor (also a resident of China) was ordered to stay at home. Review of surveillance cameras has shown that the woman broke the regime of isolation and went outside to walk around in the [communal] yard and talk to her acquaintance. He was also tested.

We got the names and contact information of all 58 passengers of the Peking-Moscow flight. With the help of video analysis, we are able to identify the driver of the taxi that the woman used to get home from the airport. And we collected information about everyone who lived in the building where the woman is renting an apartment (more than 600 people).

Fortunately, we did not have to quarantine all those people, and a second test for coronavirus tested negative for this woman.

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There have been two cases of COVID-19 inside Russia’s borders to date, two Chinese citizens who were treated and released from hospital. One Russian citizen was also diagnosed with coronavirus, though that case was contracted onboard the Diamond Princess cruise currently docked in Yokohama, Japan.

Aside from raids and facial recognition, the Russian government has also asked civil servants to be the eyes and ears of authorities on the ground. Russian bus drivers have reportedly been ordered to report any Chinese nationals to the police, but the directive has been met with a fair amount of confusion, according to EuroNews.

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“Even if drivers see people from China on board, on what grounds should they check their identity?” the head of a Russian transportation union told EuroNews. “What if he’s not a Chinese, but a Korean?”

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

imnotdedyet
David E. Davis

What a convenient excuse for dystopian technology.