Putin's Crackdown On Demonstrators Adds A Sadistic Twist: Using Surveillance Cameras To Identify People, But To Arrest Them Only Days Or Months Later
from the waiting-for-the-knock-on-the-door dept
It’s hardly news that Vladimir Putin is cracking down on supporters of Alexey Navalny, or on the journalists who are brave enough to report on the wave of protests in support of the imprisoned opposition leader. But there are some interesting wrinkles to how this is happening. For example, in a move that will not surprise Techdirt readers, Moscow’s massive facial recognition camera network — supposedly set up to enforce quarantine restrictions, and to catch criminals — has been re-purposed, as Bloomberg reports:
Police tapped the surveillance system to identify and detain dozens of people who attended last week’s protests in the Russian capital in support of jailed Kremlin foe Alexey Navalny. More than 50 were picked up over the following days, including several journalists, according to OVD-Info, an independent human-rights monitoring group that gathers information on detentions.
Nothing too surprising there, perhaps. But the RFERL.org site points out an important shift in the Russian authorities’ tactics. In the past, the police detained thousands of people who had participated in unsanctioned demonstrations. This time, a token two to three percent of the protesters at a rally were arrested, apparently allowing the rest to go free. However, this is actually part of a new, and even more cruel approach:
in recent days, Russian police have unveiled a new strategy, using surveillance-camera footage and other techniques to identify demonstrators and track them down, days after the event.
The opposition politician and political analyst Leonid Gozman explains:
“Now we have a different situation,” he continued. “They are signaling to everyone: ‘Go ahead and march, guys, but a year from now you can expect we’ll come, expect a knock at your door. And we’ll come or not as we wish….’ Now they have placed everyone in that position.”
It’s a clever approach. It means anyone coming away from attending a demo is unsure whether they have been identified there. The absence of any immediate action by the authorities no longer means protesters have escaped notice. Instead, a kind of digital sword of Damocles hangs over them, waiting to fall at some future, unknown date. The painful uncertainty this generates will probably be enough to dissuade many people from taking part in future demos — a big win for the authorities, obtained at very low cost.
This cat-and-mouse game with protesters is only possible thanks to Moscow’s blanket surveillance cameras and advanced facial recognition systems. Where, in the past, police could only arrest people at a demonstration on the spot, because there was no sure way to find them afterwards, now their faces on CCTV are enough. Once photographed and identified, there is no need to arrest them immediately, which allows the authorities to create this new and debilitating anxiety among protestors that one day there will be that dreaded knock on the door.