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Moscow City Hall uses taxis, video cameras, and metro passes in new citywide surveillance scheme

Источник: BBC Russian Service
Valery Sharifulin / TASS / Vida Press

Moscow Vice Mayor Maxim Liksutov has told the BBC Russian Service that the Russian capital’s municipal government is tracking the movements of its residents using tools as diverse as taxi data, cell phone data, security cameras, data from Troika multi-ride metro passes, and customer complaints about the city’s public transport system.

Liksutov said that all this geoanalytical data is depersonalized and used only to improve Moscow’s transit network. “We have no personal data whatsoever. This data looks like a series of points that travel around, and we don’t even have approximate information about who they might be,” the vice mayor said.

Liksutov noted that in 2011, the surveillance program relied only on customer complaints, but taxi and surveillance camera data were later added to the mix. Moscow City Hall also began buying data from cellular operators in 2015.

The Russian newspaper Vedomosti released a detailed report in March describing the mechanisms the Moscow government uses to track the movements of its constituents using data from their SIM cards. The data that cellular service providers offer to the municipal government can pinpoint a cell phone user’s location at a precision of 500 meters (1,640 feet). According to the Russian government’s state purchases website, 724 million rubles ($11.4 million) were allocated for the years 2015 - 2020 to purchasing geoanalytical data, the BBC Russian Service noted.

According to Moscow’s vice mayor, local authorities also use data they receive from public Wi-Fi operators. Public Wi-Fi is offered throughout much of Moscow’s public transit system. As Meduza reported in 2018, the company Maxima Telekom, which provides Internet access within that system, collects a range of data on its users. A significant portion of that data is used to display targeted advertisements on Moscow residents’ devices.

Svetlana Belova, the CEO of the remote identification company IDX, told the BBC that the Moscow government’s multi-layered surveillance system is not entirely legal because authorities do not inform their constituents of the fact that data about their movements is being collected and processed.

Summary by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Hilah Kohen