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Moscow plans face-ID camera network for opposition protests

(Bloomberg) --Moscow officials plan to create a network of CCTV cameras with face-recognition software to help identify participants of mass protests, after the Russian capital witnessed the largest anti-Kremlin demonstrations in seven years.

The city government is spending 260 million rubles ($3.9 million) to hire Sitronics, a unit of billionaire Vladimir Evtushenkov’s PJSFC Sistema, to help design the city-wide surveillance system that will be connected to a single data center, according to the Russian state-purchases disclosure website.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told President Vladimir Putin in May that he planned to deploy face-recognition software in a network of up to 200,000 cameras to help law enforcement identify criminals and improve security, according to the Kremlin. The surveillance system would be among the world’s largest, rivaled only by Chinese cities, Sobyanin said.

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Tens of thousands of people have joined protests in Moscow since July against the authorities’ refusal to register opposition candidates for Sept. 8 city council elections. Riot police responded harshly at most demonstrations, beating protesters and detaining more than 2,000, while courts have sentenced some activists to lengthy prison terms. After international criticism of the crackdown, police appeared to switch tactics at an unsanctioned demonstration on Aug. 31, allowing it to proceed calmly then detaining opposition leaders accused of organizing the event days later.

Sitronics will work to integrate different CCTV systems into the city government’s network and enable real-time monitoring including through use of facial recognition, according to the purchasing disclosure. Constant monitoring of mass gatherings will be a new feature as most of the city’s existing cameras are trained on entrances to apartment buildings or on rooftops that can’t identify individuals in a crowd, Vedomosti reported Friday, citing the deputy head of Moscow’s IT department, Alexander Gorbatko.