By Aaron Kesel
Russia is to start a biometric database for financial services starting next summer, the Central Bank of Russia said in a statement.
The system, although not mandatory, will extend access to banking by letting customers open accounts without having to visit a banking branch. This is all in an effort to “digitize” financial services. The regulator noted that data would only be stored with a person’s consent.
However, what the biometric database will include is worrying to say the least.
The biometric database will incorporate images of faces, voice samples and, eventually, irises and fingerprints.
With constant hacks against corporations including credit agency Equifax here in the U.S., which was threatened in September to pay in Bitcoin or else, putting all of someone’s physical identification in one place is a nightmarish scenario. Especially with the rise of using biometric data (fingerprints and facial recognition) to unlock cell phones.
Imagine someone hacks your bank biometric information – they now have your full identity and are free to access your phone and other services that use your fingerprint and face as if they were you. This enables blackmailing with access to all your private information, text, and pictures.
Last month, PJSC acquired a 25% stake in a company called VisionLabs as a first step toward building a biometric platform to identify people through face, voice and retina recognition technologies.
Rostelecom’s board chairman is Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB agent who was President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff until last year and is currently among those sanctioned by the U.S. for Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
The law will take effect six months after it’s passed. The database could also be expanded for use by microfinance organizations and government services, the central bank added.
Russia isn’t the only country planning to implement a biometric database. China has also turned its nation into George Orwell’s nightmare.
China’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the database, has amassed biometric information for more than 40 million people it was reported in 2015. The Communist country has the world’s biggest database of DNA information according to a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) just this year. For comparison, in the US, the FBI’s national DNA index has 12.7 million offender profiles.
“Mass DNA collection by the powerful Chinese police absent effective privacy protections or an independent judicial system is a perfect storm for abuses,” Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW said. “China is moving its Orwellian system to the genetic level.”
A follow-up report published earlier this month by the human rights watchdog group revealed that there was even a program which has gathered biometric data—including fingerprints, iris scans, blood-type, and DNA—on millions of residents in six regions in Xinjiang in 2017 under the guise of a free public health program providing physical examinations.
That’s not all. According to the organization, the Chinese government is even collecting “voice pattern” samples of individuals to establish a national voice biometric database.
The group stated authorities are collaborating with iFlytek, a Chinese company that produces 80 percent of all speech recognition technology in the country, to develop a pilot surveillance system that can automatically identify targeted voices in phone conversations.
“The Chinese government has been collecting the voice patterns of tens of thousands of people with little transparency about the program or laws regulating who can be targeted or how that information is going to be used,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Authorities can easily misuse that data in a country with a long history of unchecked surveillance and retaliation against critics.”
Here in the U.S. the DHS is planning a biometric facial recognition database for border checkpoints and to create the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) to store 500 million people, including many US citizens’ identities within its system.
HART will no doubt link into the FBI’s NGI (Next Generation Identification System.) The FBI uses the system for a number of criminal cases a few are listed below.
As detailed on the FBI’s website:
- The Interstate Photo System contains 23 million front-facing photographs that can be used to identify suspects without human intervention.
- The Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC) allows agents in the field to rapidly identify detainees and criminal suspects by searching a repository of Wanted Persons, Sex Offenders Registry Subjects, Known or appropriately Suspected Terrorists, and other persons of special interest.
- The Latents and National Palm Print System is an updated database of finger and palm prints that can be searched on a nationwide basis.
- The Rap Back Service notifies agencies of the activity of individuals after “the initial processing and retention of criminal or civil transactions.” The service can “notify agencies of subsequent activity for individuals enrolled in the service. Including a more timely process of confirming the suitability of those individuals placed in positions of trust and notification to users of criminal activity for those individuals placed on probation or parole.”
- Iris Recognition is “poised to offer law enforcement a new tool to quickly and accurately determine identity.”
Facebook has long used facial recognition software to identify its users that upload photographs and offers facial recognition as a method of verifying a user is who they say they are.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is currently working with allied organizations to oppose mandatory national ID cards and biometric databases. According to EFF’s website, there is an expanding list of countries that have introduced biometric ID databases including Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Italy, Peru, and Spain.
That list will soon include Russia, the U.S., and other countries within the European Union. Privacy will cease to exist if we let it and will be a thing of the past. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”