Russian authorities forced to save money on video surveillance

The Bell

As a result of the government’s budget deficit, the Russian authorities are keen to save money on anything they can that isn’t connected to the war effort or defense industry. This includes the creation of a national system of surveillance cameras, new plans show. Initially, Russia wanted to create a unified access system for 1.2 million CCTV cameras at a cost of around $1.1 billion. But proposals announced last week show the Digital Development Ministry has devised a much cheaper alternative. The planned costs have been reduced in part by getting Russians themselves to pay for cameras to be installed in their own apartment blocks.

  • Digital Development Minister Maksut Shadayev has said he wants to combineregional and private CCTV systems into a single centrally accessible platform, the Kommersant newspaper reported. According to his ministry, only half of the 1.2 million cameras currently installed with state funds across Russia are connected to a centralized system, and the authorities in Moscow also have no access to privately installed cameras. The government wants to connect both those groups to a new central platform, along with installing a new network of compulsory cameras in apartment block entrances.
  • The aim is to have 5 million cameras with facial recognition technology installed by 2030. According to the ministry, this will help to solve 30% more crimes. Needless to say, these cameras are also widely used to suppress protests and track anti-Kremlin activists. Even before the war, they were used to identify participants in anti-government rallies. The Bell has previously written about the rise of Russia’s surveillance system here.
  • This is the second time officials have tried to push forward a proposal to unify the country’s plethora of surveillance cameras. The Emergency Services Ministry proposed a similar system in 2020-22, but the plan was dismissed as too expensive. The new approach is far cheaper — with a headline cost of 12 billion rubles ($140 million) opposed to 97 billion ($1.1 billion). However, experts who spoke to Kommersant reckon the final bill is likely to come in five or six times higher, not far off the original price tag.
  • The planned costs have been reduced in part by planning to get those who will be being surveilled to pay for it, by adding the costs of installing CCTV cameras in residential buildings to the regular service charges paid by residents.

Why the world should care

Although Moscow has long sought to follow China’s example when it comes to monitoring its citizens’ lives, the Russian system is nowhere near as complete. Nonetheless, it is already enough to allow them to suppress protests and identify people who attend anti-Kremlin rallies thanks mainly to the roll-out of facial recognition cameras across Moscow in the late 2010s. A centrally-monitored surveillance system and cameras in every apartment block could move Russia a step closer towards China, allowing the authorities to track and identify its opponents far beyond just Moscow.


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