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Face recognition cameras pose risk to human rights in Kyrgyzstan

Agreement on supply of cameras with facial recognition function poses risk to human rights in Kyrgyzstan. The International Human Rights Organization Human Rights Watch says in a statement.

According to the organization, on October 31, President of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbai Jeenbekov inaugurated a new police command center in Bishkek. But this local event had an international human rights dimension: the center will manage a network of cameras equipped with facial recognition technology and installed throughout the city. It is also provided by and paid for, at least in part, by a Chinese state company.

In March, Kyrgyzstan’s government signed an agreement with China National Electronic Import and Export Corporation (CEIEC) to install technology to improve «public and road safety.»

But there was little transparency around the deal and how facial images of Kyrgyz people and other personal data would be collected, stored, and transferred.

 It is also unclear whether there are legal safeguards that restrict CEIEC from accessing such data.

«The use of facial recognition technology in public spaces can allow governments to track and monitor people’s habits and movements, creating potential chilling effects on freedoms of expression and assembly. It can also be used to single out individuals in discriminatory ways, including for their ethnicity or religion,» HRW notes.

As the human right defenders stress, the rollout of facial recognition technology was approved in Kyrgyzstan without public consultation or necessary transparency, making it unclear how or if the government plans to mitigate the technology’s potential impact on privacy.

According to the organization, the situation in the Chinese region of Xinjiang should serve as a warning to Kyrgyz citizens.

Kyrgyz laws establish some privacy protections. The Kyrgyz Constitution enshrines the right to privacy, the Law on Biometric Registration requires that individuals consent to data collection, and the Law on Personal Information bans the collection of personal data without consent.

But these laws also create broad exemptions for national security or law enforcement purposes, and there is no law regulating facial recognition technology specifically. «The opaque terms of the CEIEC deal create the risk that the Kyrgyz government could use increased security as a blanket justification for mass surveillance of its citizens,» HRW says.

«The Kyrgyz government should pause the rollout of facial recognition technology, disclose the details of this deal, and provide privacy protections that meet international standards,» the organization urges.