The Bank of Russia responded to the hysteria associated with biometric data

The Bank of Russia responded to the hysteria associated with biometric data

The transfer of biometric information and the use of the digital ruble are two completely unrelated processes. For Russians, they are both completely voluntary. This was stated by the Chairman of the Bank of Russia, Elvira Nabiullina. This is how she commented on the rumors that have swept social networks that the latest innovations are stages on the state’s path to “digital surveillance” of citizens. Meanwhile, this craze with the refusal of biometrics has reached literally tens of thousands of people in recent weeks, and in a number of regions, long queues of people who believed the bad rumors lined up at the MFC.

In August, residents of large cities, mostly older people, began receiving mailings in chats and instant messengers with calls to urgently write applications to the MFC to refuse the use of biometrics. This had to be done as quickly as possible, otherwise it was argued that the citizen’s photograph would be entered into the database “for use by states.” Further, the mailings were frightening with the introduction of a digital ruble, due to which supposedly all salaries and benefits would become “completely virtual”, and its issuance could be linked to biometric data and then, they say, total surveillance of a person’s every step would begin.

Explanations from officials about the fake, a call to trust only official sources of information, as well as statements that the law allows you to submit an application to refuse the collection and storage of biometric data without time restrictions did not help. Moreover, banks are actually obliged to transfer facial samples to the state Unified Biometric System by the end of September, while only the largest state-owned bank in the country has accumulated data on 30 million people.

All this caused a real stir in the MFC. People began en masse to contact government service centers, wanting to write an application to refuse the collection and storage of biometric data. Thus, according to the MFC of the Krasnodar Territory, in the week from August 24 to August 31 alone, 70 thousand such requests were recorded. In Udmurtia, 4.7 thousand applications were accepted over the same period. The government service centers of Bashkortostan called what was happening a stir, explaining that in August 14 thousand “refuseniks” applied to the republican offices. In Dagestan, according to the press service of the republican MFC, 11 thousand applications were received in the last week of August alone. For comparison, for the entire previous year 2023, there were only 4 thousand of them in the entire region. In the Amur region, on August 28 alone, 1.6 thousand citizens turned to public service centers wishing to write a corresponding refusal. In the Irkutsk region, according to the local government, the work of a number of MFCs was practically paralyzed due to the influx of people wishing to write relevant applications.

It is not surprising that the question of the connection between the digital ruble and biometrics was raised at the latest press conference of the Bank of Russia. “First: biometrics and the digital ruble are two projects that are absolutely unrelated to each other,” explained Elvira Nabiullina. — The use of the digital ruble does not require biometrics. Second: both processes are completely voluntary.” The head of the Bank of Russia added that the regulator only creates the opportunity to choose, but each person decides for himself how to make payments. Statistics show that Russians prefer more convenient payment methods - cards and online transfers, but no one is going to cancel cash, she noted.

It is curious that in the assessments of independent experts there is no unity in understanding the general course of state policy, which only adds to anxiety in society. “Citizens’ fears about the possible linking of biometrics to the digital ruble and the loss of control over their personal data are unfounded,” says Shamil Isaev, CEO of the IT company Comrades Devs. “There are no official plans or announcements for such a connection at this time.” However, such soothing comments on social networks do not find understanding, since users draw parallels with the situation during the pandemic, when conversations about the desirability of vaccination quickly moved to its obligatory nature and the issuance of appropriate certificates. Skeptical sentiments in society are also fueled by the authorities’ consistent actions regarding the expansion of the digitalization zone. So, literally two days after Nabiullina’s statement, the president signed a decree on a “digital passport”, which defines the cases and procedure for using a digital ID instead of a paper one.

At the same time, most experts admit: the whole world is going digital, and Russia is going digital too. But this is not a reason to abandon biometrics, and even more so to be afraid of the digital ruble. “The world is inevitably moving towards total control of its citizens through various kinds of digital services,” says Sergei Mendeleev, head of InDeFi Smart Bank. “But the average Russian now faces much more important questions than the presence of his face, voice or gait in a single database.” According to the expert, there is no connection at all between the digital ruble and the collection of biometrics, although these phenomena themselves raise a lot of questions. And if everything is more or less clear with the digital ruble (this is the same non-cash payment method, just without the participation of commercial banks), then why it was necessary to create a unified biometric database is a difficult topic even for specialists. “Biometrics and the digital ruble are links in the same chain,” Maxim Osadchiy, head of the analytical department of BKF Bank, enters the conversation. - But these are completely different links. The digital ruble can be introduced without any biometrics, and biometrics does not require the presence of a digital ruble at all.”

It should be understood that the state already has enough information about every Russian, and personal data is collected almost every day. “Video surveillance systems operating in many cities, including Moscow, have long been equipped with a facial recognition function,” recalls Daniil Kleshko, founder of the Union of Banks of Moscow company. “These systems were created, among other things, to ensure security in the face of increased terrorist threats.” The main task of biometric systems is not only security, but also the prevention of fraud and the protection of citizens’ funds, the expert points out.

When paying with a card in a store, a citizen leaves a long digital trail, which can be used to establish what, where and when he bought and where he got the money for the purchase. “It has never been difficult to connect the identity of a citizen and the financial transaction he made,” notes Deputy Head of the Digital Transformation Department of the Russian Economic University. Plekhanov Pavel Terelyansky. If suddenly, by a court decision, certain transactions are legally prohibited for individual citizens (for example, the purchase of weapons by a criminal or the purchase of alcohol by children), then biometrics and the digital ruble can really help society limit such violations. At the same time, for law-abiding citizens, biometrics will allow them to receive government services much faster by reducing the number of checks and increasing the speed of personal identification. And digital rubles will eliminate the possibility of fraud, since it will always be known where and to whom exactly the stolen money went. So the development of technology always means additional conveniences in people’s lives, the scientist recalled.

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