January 15, 2024

They Are Listening to You


They Are Listening to You
Medical office in a polyclinic in Moscow. stroi.mos.ru, Wikimedia Commons

The Moscow Department of Health has installed listening devices in doctors' offices, per Order No. 1241, "On the Replication of the Project for Audio Monitoring of Outpatient Doctor Appointments." According to the order, audio recording devices are mandated to be placed in doctors' offices to assess caregivers' performance and adherence to Ministry regulations.

The directive specifically prohibits actions such as making fun of patients, criticizing management, uttering complex terms, and using phrases and words like "molodoy chelovek" (young man), "khvatit" (enough), or "yasno" (clear).

Maria Gubareva, an obstetrician-gynecologist and deputy head of the All-Russian Trade Union of Healthcare Workers Deystvie (Action), asserts that control over conversations is already underway, and the order merely legitimizes the practice. Gubareva wonders whether patients’ consent to audio recording will be sought or if contacting a government agency implies that the patient automatically agrees that all intimate details, which may not be disclosed openly even to a doctor, will be accessible to third parties. 

The new regulation follows a trend of invasive new rules in Russia, including these examples:

  • According to a recently adopted law, taxi services are required to provide the Federal Security Service (FSB) with access to their databases, sharing with the agency information on all their passengers.
  • A leak from Russian tech giant Yandex revealed that the Alice (don't call her Alexa) smart speaker can activate its microphone for several seconds, even when the user does not say its name.
  • VKontakte, the largest social network in Russia, has collaborated closely with law enforcement agencies for many years, sharing sensitive information about its users.
  • Law enforcement agencies have successfully apprehended individuals evading mobilization through the use of cameras and a facial recognition system.

Governmental agencies are not the only entities gaining access to Russians' data. In 2022, the number of leaked records containing personal data on Russians was 4.5 times higher than the country’s population, totaling 667 million. The frequency of data breaches continues to escalate, with 705 million records leaked into the public domain in just the first half of 2023. 

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