Russia under President Vladimir Putin has pioneered authoritarian tech: Last year, the Kremlin leader approved measures that would enable the creation of a “sovereign” Russian internet, able to be firewalled from the rest of the world.
The Covid-19 pandemic is now giving Russian authorities an opportunity to test new powers and technology, and the country’s privacy and free-speech advocates worry the government is building sweeping new surveillance capabilities.
Perhaps the most well-publicized tech tool in Russia’s arsenal for fighting coronavirus is Moscow’s massive facial-recognition system. Rolled out earlier this year, the surveillance system had originally prompted an unusual public backlash, with privacy advocates filing lawsuits over unlawful surveillance.
Coronavirus, however, has given an unexpected public-relations boost to the system.