Russia Plans National Biometric Database Starting Next Year

Russia Plans National Biometric Database Starting Next Year

Upper house of parliament approves law allowing system
Russian state-owned firms lead push for biometric technology

By Jake Rudnitsky December 26, 2017, 5:42 AM PST

Russia will get a country-wide biometric database for financial services starting next summer, the central bank said.

The system will expand access to banking by letting people open accounts without having to visit a branch and is a key milestone in digitizing financial services, the Bank of Russia said in a statement. The regulator said that data would only be stored with individuals’ consent. Legal changes needed for the system passed this month.

State-owned Rostelecom PJSC has been selected to run the database, which will collect personal data including images of faces, voice samples and, eventually, irises and fingerprints. Facial-recognition technology has been gaining consumer acceptance around the world, with Apple Inc.’s latest iPhone using it to unlock the device. In Russia, the authorities and government-linked companies are leading the charge.

Moscow claims it has the largest centralized surveillance network in the world, and uses facial-recognition technology to help police the city. Sberbank PJSC, the state-owned lender that holds nearly half of retail deposits in Russia, last month acquired a 25% stake in 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 is officially published. The database could also be expanded for use by microfinance organizations and government services, the central bank said.

— With assistance by Ilya Khrennikov


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