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Senator calls for investigation after Reuters facial recognition report


Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., October 19, 2021. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has called for the Biden administration to carry out an investigation after a Reuters report showed how Russian authorities are using facial recognition to curb dissent with the aid of U.S. technology.

Wyden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said that “American technology shouldn’t be a linchpin in Russia’s authoritarian surveillance machine.”

“The administration should thoroughly investigate allegations that U.S. chips are being used in Russia’s facial recognition and surveillance regime and do what it takes to cut off the flow of sensitive technology to Putin and his cronies,” Wyden told Reuters.

His comments came in response to Reuters reporting last month that showed that surveillance and facial recognition have played an important role in the arrests of hundreds of protesters in Moscow — and that after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, authorities began using facial recognition to prevent people from protesting.

The facial recognition system in Moscow is powered by algorithms produced by one Belarusian company and three Russian firms. At least three of the companies have used chips from U.S. firms Nvidia Corp or Intel Corp in conjunction with their algorithms, Reuters found.

In response to the Reuters findings, Nvidia and Intel said they cannot always know how their products are used and that they halted all shipments to Russia in March 2022 after the United States tightened export restrictions. Russian customs records showed the companies’ technologies were still arriving in Russia via third parties between April 1, 2022, and Oct. 31 2022.

Intel said it takes reports of continued availability of its products seriously and is looking into the matter. Nvidia said it complies with all applicable laws. “If we learn that any Nvidia customer has violated U.S. export laws and shipped our products to Russia, we will cease doing business with them,” an Nvidia spokesperson said.

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