MOSCOW — Like many other states, Russia’s government is looking for new electronic surveillance tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens are not taking it well.
The Ministry of Communications released a mobile app this week to “provide electronic services potentially needed during the outbreak of the coronavirus,” and especially for issuing electronic permissions for going outside. Smartphone users in Russia are giving it low ratings and leaving bad reviews in the Android and iOS app stores. Some are reporting the government-backed app to Google and Apple in the hopes of getting it removed, an action usually taken for copyright infringement or inappropriate content.
In Moscow, the lockdown was imposed on March, 29. Other cities and regions in Russia are following Moscow’s lead to varying degrees. There is no obligatory national lockdown at this point.
Since April 15, to leave home, individuals in Moscow have needed electronic permission. It comes in the form of a QR code, issued on the city administration website after registered users enter their name, location, destination and reason for travel. In other parts of Russia, the app will serve as a source of electronic permission.
The practice immediately provoked an outcry from privacy advocates, earning the electronic permission system the nickname “cyber Gulag,” CNN reported. The system also appeared incapable of sustaining a massive volume of requests, as the Moscow city administration website went down during the first day of electronic permissions. The authorities blamed “DDoS attacks from abroad.”
The system also generated massive traffic on roads leading to Moscow and crowds in the subway entrances on the first day of operation, with people waiting in long lines to get their QR codes checked by unprepared police officers.
The app, released on April 12, had been downloaded over…