Alena Popova: “We’re racing toward the Chinese model.” The State Duma has adopted a draft law to create a unified register for citizens’ personal data

17 April 2020

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Facebook]

The authorities plan to gather 30 types of information about Russian citizens from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Federal Tax Service and other departments. Lawyer Alena Popova explains the dangers. 

At an April 17 plenary session the State Duma adopted at second reading a draft law to create a unified federal register containing information on the country’s citizens, ASI has reported. The bill was initiated by the Government of the Russian Federation. The initiative aims to systematize the information held by state and municipal databases. The register will be operated by the Federal Tax Service, and it will have responsibility for protecting personal data. 

The authorities plan to gather approximately 30 types of information from 12 basic sources: the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Tax Service, state extrabudgetary funds (such as pension funds) and others. The register will be based on more than 500 million copies of vital records and the Interior Ministry database. 

The register will hold a person’s basic information (surname, name and patronymic; sex, date and place of birth and death, required documents of vital records on birth and death, individual insurance account number and individual taxpayer number and additional info: marital status, family links.

In accordance with the amendments added in the bill’s second reading, citizens and their legal representatives may request information from the register (previously this had been allowed only to state agencies), and public notaries may use the register for professional purposes. 

The register will make it possible to trace a person’s family ties from their basic data, after which the government can “calculate family income, per capita income, put any controls in place” and provide necessary aid, deputy head of the Federal Tax Service Vitaly Kolesnikov told Interfax

According to the lawyer and rights defender Alena Popova, it is a “very short step” from the creation of such a register to the introduction of social ranking. 

Social ranking is already used in China. “It is a system of inequality related to whether people conform to officials’ vision of the ideal citizen,” the lawyer explains further. 

Alena Popova, laywer, rights defender:

With the tacit agreement of a majority of citizens, digital collars have already been put on people amid the confusion of the coronavirus. And now the magical Duma is voting on an enormous entity for total control: a draft law to create a unified federal register holding information on the country’s population. On Thursday a document with amendments was approved by the relevant committee of the lower house of parliament. 

From here it is a very short step to social ranking. And all this, I repeat, amid the current sentiment that we should control everything everywhere, and that the people around us are an irresponsible herd (which is what the powers-that-be and the pro-government social media are telling us). Is it worth asking why people have to have this drummed into them all the time? 

What is “social ranking” and how does it work in China? It is a system of inequality related to whether people conform to officials’ vision of the ideal citizen.

In September 2016, the Chinese government published a list of restrictions to be imposed on people with low rankings. You could have a low ranking if you’re Muslim, for instance (I don’t know what they’d come up with in our country, given its outrageous levels of social inequality), or if you don’t tow the party line – if you actively dislike the actions of the government, for example.

The list of restrictions is enormous, but here are a few of them (only for those with a low social ranking):

– a ban on working in state institutions;
– the denial of social security benefits;
– particularly thorough customs inspections;
– a ban on occupying leadership positions in the food and pharmaceutical industries;
– the denial of air tickets and berths on sleeper trains;
– the denial of rooms in luxury hotels and tables at restaurants;
– a ban on children studying at expensive private schools;
– loan disapprovals; and
– keeping you under constant observation, including total surveillance using facial recognition technology.

The system also makes a lot of mistakes. When a bus with the image of a celebrity on its side passed through a red light, the celebrity was fined for violating traffic rules and his ranking went down.

To have a high ranking, you need to keep quiet, not criticise the authorities, agree with everything and just concentrate on your family, but don’t change the model of your telephone and don’t go into a stairwell or building by a different door than usual.

Information is being collected on the Uighurs, for example, including electricity and water consumption, phone brand changes, and communication with neighbours. If an Uighur changes their model from a smartphone to a push button, police officers will question family and neighbours to find out why. Human Rights Watch has produced a fantastic report on the subject.

The Uighurs are managing to flee to Kazakhstan, where our colleagues help them. You would be absolutely horrified at every one of their stories, believe me, including the Uighurs being sent to existing re-education camps.

I didn’t think we would get to that, especially in Moscow. But seeing how the State Duma is rubber stamping censorship and surveillance laws, plus having already seen how calmly Russian citizens accepted the idea of digital collars and digital concentration camps, I’ve realised that we’re hurtling towards the Chinese model.

And the most important thing is that the officials our taxes pay for are controlling us, while creating privileged positions for themselves free of surveillance, starting by not attaching facial recognition cameras to their own buildings and entrance halls. This inequality is also increasing with the consent of the Russian people. Citizens themselves are silently renouncing their rights. And when they realise that they should have defended themselves and their rights, it will be too late. I don’t think it’s worth anyone saying how our judicial system works.

Translated by Alissa Valles and Nicky Brown

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