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Russian authorities say a plan to install SIM card readers in the Moscow Metro is designed to stop pickpockets — but observers suspect an ulterior motive.
Moscow authorities will soon install cell phone readers inside the Russian capital’s expansive metro system, allowing them to track the movements of any passenger deemed to be suspicious, a top police official said Monday.
Moscow Metro police chief Andrei Mokhov said stations would be equipped with sensors capable of reading data carried on a phone’s SIM card in order to track stolen devices, according to the Izvestia daily.
If the sensors register a number reported to the police as stolen, they feed the information to locally installed CCTV cameras, which then snap photos of whoever is using the phone.
Mokhov said the system was aimed at cutting petty crime on the metro by discouraging pickpockets. But some experts point to ulterior motives.
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Alexander Ivanchenko, head of the Russian Security Industry Association, speculated that the system would grant the security services a greater degree of control.
“It is obvious that the cost of such a system is incomparable to the value of all stolen phones,” he told Izvestia.
Russia’s security and intelligence services are among the largest in the world. Observers note that structures such as the Federal Security Service (known by its Russian acronym, FSB) have enjoyed resurgence under Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mokhov, the metro police chief, denied the new sensor system would break any laws, saying that while it is illegal to track individuals without permission from the authorities, police are allowed to track “company property” — in this case SIM cards, which remain property of the network provider.
Other experts suggested that the system may also be designed to monitor potential terrorists.
Russia has suffered from a number of deadly terrorist attacks in recent years, including a 2010 double suicide bombing on the metro that killed 40 people and injured more than 100.