22 May 2020
Moscow government's 'social monitoring' software leads to 'thousands' of unlawful fines: Human Rights Watch

Moscow government's 'social monitoring' software leads to 'thousands' of unlawful fines: Human Rights Watch

Vladimir Gerdo / TASS

Moscow's 'Social Monitoring' app, which has been used to track the whereabouts of people quarantined after being diagnosed with COVID-19, has led to "hundreds, if not thousands," of unlawful fines, international NGO Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international NGO that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, has accused the Moscow Mayor's Office of issuing "hundreds, if not thousands" of unlawful fines due to errors in an app tracking citizens' whereabouts during the city's COVID-19 quarantine.

The app, titled 'Social Monitoring', was originally introduced in late March to direct and monitor the conditions of coronavirus-positive patients across Moscow, but was abruptly taken down to be fine-tuned. The updated app was re-introduced in April.

HRW claims that the software "unjustifiably invades people's privacy" and is "mired in flaws and technical glitches."

“While protecting human life and public health is a paramount concern during the pandemic, Moscow’s social monitoring app could end up discouraging people from seeking out testing or health care, putting them and others at greater risk,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW's Europe and Central Asia director. “The app is intrusive, violates privacy and other rights, and should be dropped,” he added.

HRW's appeal lists several high-profile cases in which Muscovites were unjustly fined, such as that of Irina Karabulatova, who has not left her bed for over a year because of a disability. Karabulatova received a fine for allegedly violating the quarantine, which was later recalled. Multiple users have also complained that the app woke them up in the middle of the night, demanding confirmation that they have not left their homes.

The NGO notes that the software collects 'excessive' information, as the authorities plan to store user data for a year, although the quarantine only lasts two weeks.

“The Moscow authorities have understandably been looking at a range of solutions, including technology, in their struggle to contain the virus, but these efforts should be lawful, necessary, proportionate, transparent, and justified by legitimate public health objectives,” Williamson added. “Moscow’s social monitoring app doesn’t meet these criteria. It’s intrusive, deeply flawed, and arbitrarily punishes law-abiding people along with actual quarantine violators.”

The Moscow government's IT Department has claimed that the app's errors are being corrected. The authorities have issued over 54,000 fines amounting to over 200 million roubles as of May 20.

Moscow is Russia's most-affected region in terms of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the city counts over 158,000 infections as of May 22.