Pavel Golovkin / AP
Moscow city authorities are rolling out new digital “social surveillance” tools aimed at the public, according to what officials say were constant violations of the city’s quarantine introduced this week to fight the spread of the new corona virus.
Under restrictions that have been in place since Monday, most of the city’s 12 million residents must stay indoors, with a few exceptions – such as trips to the supermarket or pharmacy, taking out trash or walking short with the dog.
But from Thursday, Muscovites will track their movements through a compulsory app required on their smartphones. Don’t have one? The city says it will lend units.
“The main goal, together with the patient, is to encourage him not to go outside,” said Eduard Lysenko, head of the city’s department of information and technology, in an interview with Echo from Moscow’s radio.
In addition, residents of Moscow will be required to register for a issued QR code – a small square metric bar code containing personal information. What information the codes will contain is not yet clear. But the Russians must present it on their smartphones or have a printout of their QR profiles to present to the police, if requested. (City officials say they are also preparing to educate the public – and older Russians, in particular – about what a QR code actually is.)
The new tools will merge with existing street cameras and face recognition software to quickly identify residents who want from their homes and / or quarantine, authorities say.
By giving incentives to abide by the rules, President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a law imposing criminal penalties – including fines and up to seven years in prison – to quarantine and infect others. The Russian leader also signed legislation that gives the government additional powers to declare one immediate national emergency without Parliament’s approval.
Still, members of Russia’s opposition – no strangers to state surveillance or prisons – express particular concern over a growing digital arsenal that the government says will help it fight COVID-19. A state working group reported on Wednesday more than 2,700 cases of infection and 24 deaths from the disease, with the majority of cases in Moscow.
“One thing is clear,” Leonid Volkov, a chief strategist for opposition leader Alexei Navalny, writes on his Telegram channel. “The coronavirus will eventually leave but this digital concentration camp will remain.”