Russia: HRC warns of risk of digital discrimination

HRC expert: “There is a risk of digital discrimination and the emergence of ‘social ratings’

29 October, 2020

The President’s Human Rights Council (HRC) hosted a conference on respect for human rights in the context of the spread of COVID-19.

Muscovites complained en masse about the imposition of social monitoring and unreasonable fines during the quarantine period. A report on these complaints was published by the head of the HRC Valery Fadeev. According to him, many mistakes were indeed made, but the authorities responded efficiently and dealt with tens of thousands of claims.

Russians from other regions also complained about the severity of restrictive measures during quarantine.

“In my opinion, we did not react excessively. In Europe, everyone had to wear masks outside, and there were 500 Euro fines,” Fadeev said.

Still deemed at risk were the so-called ‘invisible people” who were under the radar of state institutions during the period of self-isolation. These included single older people, people with mental health issues and children with serious health conditions.  According to Fadeev, CSOs should support such groups, but the tenfold decrease in donations has made this work difficult.

“CSOs need to be supported by regular funding, not grants,” said the HRC Chairman

There are still questions to be answered associated with the shift to distance learning. There are more than three million schoolchildren in Russia in low-income families who cannot afford a computer for each child.

“In essence education is no longer free of charge,” says Fadeev. “We applied to the State Duma with a proposal to find ways to provide families in need with the necessary equipment.”

HRC expert Igor Ashmanov highlighted a new danger – government bodies are “enthusiastically digitalising everything and everyone”. Uncontrolled digitalisation can lead to violation of basic human rights, including the right to refuse to enter the digital sphere, the right to privacy and the protection of online identity.

According to Ashmanov, there are many ‘evangelists’ of total digitalisation in the government. Therefore, it is important to create some kind of digital code in order to help regulate the new sphere according to these new rights.

“There is a risk of evolving towards digital discrimination, where tracking people will lead to ways of judging people, in essence ‘social ratings’. “We could find ourselves in a hellish dystopia,” the expert warns.

The rapid rise in unemployment remains painful and acute. According to HRC member Tatyana Merzlyakova, support, loans and payments to businesses did  help to some extent, but unfortunately not all the President’s recommendations in the regions were fully implemented.

“Some could not pay salaries. Others were unwilling to. Major enterprises survived, which is good, but support for small and medium-sized businesses is still needed, concluded Merzlyakova.


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