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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New State Database To Get 30M Fingerprints

Russia will double its database of fingerprints under a new law the government says will speed the search for criminals and the identification of the missing, but which civil libertarians fear is an expansion of the state's powers of surveillance.

Under the law, which took effect Jan. 1, more than 30 million people will be subject to fingerprinting in Russia. The categories of people who must be fingerprinted include workers with dangerous or sensitive jobs - like intelligence officers, pilots, rescue workers, and armed forces personnel.

But it also includes other categories, with police given the power to fingerprint, for instance, mentally disabled people who can't otherwise identify themselves and foreigners requesting political asylum.

Besides, voluntary registration is recommended to anyone working in so-called dangerous professions, including journalists, and eventually, to all citizens.

But it didn't appear as if journalists were about to rush to be fingerprinted by the police.

Tatyana Blinova, a spokeswoman for NTV television, said even though there was a "certain expediency" in the measure, the NTV will not insist its journalists be fingerprinted, not even Yelena Masyuk, the station's renowned war correspondent who was kidnapped and later freed in Chechnya.

"Masyuk should decide for herself what is more dangerous for her - her fingerprints at the police database or a chance to be missing," Blinova said. Masyuk has been questioned several times by secret police officials who didn't like her reporting.

Currently, about 15 million sets of fingerprints are on file with law enforcement agencies. The developers of the law said they chose fingerprinting rather than DNA samples or dental records because "even if not the most effective, it's the cheapest," said Sergei Pankratov, deputy director of the police expert center for criminal law, who helped draft the regulation.

The law "is undoubtedly an infringement on civil rights. It's an attempt at total surveillance," said Sergei Grigoryants, chairman of a human rights group Glasnost Public Foundation. "It contradicts the article of the Constitution prohibiting any investigation on a person before a court order is issued."

Grigoryants said that provisions requiring that fingerprints be destroyed if criminal charges are dismissed or when a service member retires were likely to be ignored, he said.

"There is no control," Grigoryants said, citing current law that bans collection of data about a person who is not a convicted criminal, and allows those who suspect that they are being spied upon to see their files at the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB.

Neither of the two regulations is enforced, he said.

Pankratov dismissed fears that fingerprint data can be used against a person. "It's no more harmful than a photograph," he said.

Another official who worked on the legislation, Gennady Dunin of the State Duma security committee, said that Russian national character was behind opposition. "We are always afraid that somebody wants to put us in jail. It's the feature of our national psychology," he said.