China facial recognition deal poses risks to rights in Kyrgyzstan – HRW


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.”It is also paid for, at least in part, by the Chinese state company.

On October 31, Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbay Jeenbekov inaugurated a new police command center in the capital city of Bishkek. The center will manage the newly acquired network of cameras equipped with facial recognition technology installed throughout the city.

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. Human Rights Watch wrote to CEIEC for more information but received no reply.

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.

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

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.

Under international human rights law, Kyrgyzstan has obligations to ensure that government collection, retention, and use of biometrics is well-regulated, narrow in scope, and necessary and proportionate to meeting a legitimate security goal.

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. (Source: HRW)