On June 29, Russian facial recognition technology company, Ntechlab, announced that, in the next month, it will deploy its software across 30 Indian Railways stations, with aspirations to expand the company’s surveillance system throughout the entire Indian railway network. Ntechlab is backed by RT-Business, a subsidiary of the state-owned defense enterprise, Rostec. It is also backed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund among other foreign investors.
In Russia, Ntechlab’s technology is a fixture within the Kremlin’s extensive domestic surveillance network, including in major urban centers, such as Moscow. These ties thus implicate the company in the Kremlin’s expansive surveillance system that is widely used to surveil citizens and crack down on government opponents and protesters.
The company’s moves into the Indian market are emblematic of Ntechlab’s growing global ambitions. The company, for example, has a presence in Argentina, where its technology has raised data privacy concerns. More recently, Ntechlab set up two offices in the United Arab Emirates to engage with Gulf markets. In 2019, the Russian firm jointly developed a facial recognition camera with Chinese counterpart, Dahua Technology, for Russian and Chinese law enforcement agencies, acknowledging that the companies also intend to sell the new product to foreign militaries. Unverified sources also report that NtechLab works in partnership with Rostec to develop facial recognition technology for the Russian military.
Artem Kukharenko, Co-Founder and R&D Director of Ntechlab, confirmed that the company is closely monitoring India’s planned development of a unified biometric system and that the company is actively pursuing a deal to participate in this system with “commercial and state structures” within India. Kukharenko points out that India’s planned surveillance network is “more or less the same thing” as what is currently being implemented in Russia. Ntechlab is among the primary vendors for Russia’s state-backed Unified Biometric System.