More and more people feel hopeful for the future of Russia as the global (at least cultural) alternative to the current ‘neo-liberal’, minorities-dominated West after the recent ‘YES’ vote on the conservative amendments to the Russian Constitution. However, at the same time, negative trends caused by consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and the following restirctions have been still developing there.
It was revealed that the Russian Ministry of Communications has developed a regulation for tracking contacts of coronavirus infected people based on geolocation and data from mobile operators. The corresponding draft order of the ministry is published on the portal of draft regulatory legal acts.
According to the project, the Ministry of Health will gather data on the phone number of the infected person.
Then, special algorithms will compile a list of people who were in the same place as the patient, as well as individuals who were in constant contact with him over mobile communications over the previous two weeks.
Essentially, the data will comprise a list of who the patient spent time with over the two weeks before developing symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19 and will be used to track where the individual traveled and how much time specifically was spent with each other person.
“As a result, lists of subscriber numbers are formed that were at risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 during direct contact with the patient. The data obtained is processed using the information resources of the Ministry of Communications and sent to the operational headquarters of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, the Russian National Guard, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Health,” the draft said.
The Ministry of Communications announced the creation of a tracking system for coronavirus carriers in early April.
“If citizens do not fulfill the isolation conditions, the operators send them the appropriate text message. If this happens systematically, then operators will provide data to law enforcement authorities,” explained the head of the department, Maksut Shadaev.
In Moscow, at the same time, they began using the Social Monitoring application to monitor whether the coronavirus-infected people were in compliance with the self-isolation regime.
It is installed on special phones from which you can only call emergency services and on which other applications cannot be installed.
The application tracks the user’s geodata and makes sure that they do not leave their place of residence. The ministry workers even ask for a selfie from the sick person against the background of a home interior to prove that they are at home, in addition to everything else.
The personal data of the infected used by the service is stored in Russia on the servers of the department of the metropolitan administration.
In June, the first deputy chief of staff of the mayor and government of Moscow, Alexei Nemeryuk, announced that the city authorities would “publicly” delete the personal information of residents from the Social Monitoring application, when the crisis had passed. This would also take place after the completion of court cases regarding the operation of the system, he added. Nonetheless, as the historical practice demonstrates, public declarations may easily go contrary to the real facts. Therefore, there is a concern that the personal data collected under pretext of combating the COVID-19 outbreak could be not deleted and later it could be used to strengthen surveillance over citizens.
As such, the usage of the system to track individuals’ movements is justified by countering COVID-19, but the capability isn’t newly-developed, it was very evidently there to begin with.
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in Russia, local authorities of some regions widely used the lockdown measures in order to strengthen their control of residents of big cities, first of all Moscow, and introduce new ‘smart’ technologies that would regulate and monitor daily life. These measures were widely questioned in the Russian society. For example, a large part of actions of Moscow authorities (that were imposing various additional restrictions, fees, regulations and surveillance practices) as an attempt to use the situation to play own political game. An interesting fact is that these actions were actively supported by the so-called ‘liberal’ part of the Russian elite and pro-Western media.
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