Facial recognition technology installed on the Moscow metro enables contactless payments – and can also catch ‘criminals’. But not everyone is buying into this vision of the future. Olivia Palamountain reports

On the Moscow metro, your face is now your ticket to ride thanks to the implementation of futuristic facial recognition technology.

The groundbreaking tech has been trialled on the Moscow metro since December 2020 and is expected to roll out metro-wide by the end of 2021, thanks to a reported US$10 million investment in the facial-recognition network, says The Moscow Times.

In order to use the system, passengers must have a Russian bank account that has their biometric data on file, Interfax reports, citing metro security service head Andrei Kichigin as the source.

How does it work in practice? Once registered, all passengers need to do is head past strategically placed cameras towards the turnstiles or ticket booths and the fare will be debited from their account in tandem while the security gates open automatically.

According to The Times, the technology works even if people are wearing face masks.

Globetrender first predicted the rise of “Automated Gateways” in its Future of Business Travel report (free to download) We wrote: “Automated Gateways are fast becoming a reality. Using your face as a passport will soon be a much more common feature of the business travel experience.

“A growing number of airports have been introducing biometric technology to streamline the passenger journey through the terminal, and that trend is set to accelerate swiftly in the post-Covid world as authorities seek to mitigate risk and limit human interaction.”

Facial scanning is also being used at Dubai and Amsterdam Schipol airports to replace the need for manual document checks, while the Eurostar station at London St Pancras is also planning to install iProov facial recognition technology that will mean passengers can travel between the UK and Europe without a passport.

As facial recognition technology becomes ever more sophisticated, however, its potential implementations go further than just opening doors – a trend (Bio Borders) that was explored in a recent issue of VOLT, Globetrender’s new members-only premium newsletter. (Annual subscribers can gain access to the archive.)

It’s not just the Moscow metro getting a Big Brother makeover. Authorities in the city have already deployed facial recognition technology across a huge network of some 200,000 surveillance cameras in streets, on public transport and in the entrances to flats, adding to the “Safe City” facial recognition surveillance programme that was also in force last year to track coronavirus carriers and enforce quarantines.

While citizens have been assured that the step is to help identify criminal suspects (State media said police had detained about 900 suspected criminals since facial recognition cameras were installed in the metro in September), the move is not without controversy.

The Times reports that, last year, a member of a digital rights group filed a lawsuit against Moscow’s Department of Technology, which manages the surveillance programme, after she was able to purchase data about her movements across the city on the dark web.

Anna Kuznetsova, an activist with the Roskomsvoboda organisation, said she was provided with 79 photographs that identified her in the city, along with times and addresses. She said the information cost her 16,000 roubles (£155 pounds).

“Any crazy guy can stalk you using this; criminals can check when and where you go and steal from your apartment or hurt you,” she said.

A court in Moscow rejected her attempt to ban the technology and officials have dismissed concerns that the surveillance system lacks judicial or public oversight.

“If you have not committed a crime and do not have a problem with the law, then the cameras will only protect you,” said Andrei Kichigin.

What’s coming next? Trend reports available to download HERE