Ukraine uses US facial recognition technology to terrorize families of dead Russian soldiers


A Ukrainian soldier stands near an apartment ruined from Russian shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine, Wednesday, Apr. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Ukraine is employing US-made facial recognition technology to scan the faces of dead Russian soldiers and, after having matched the images to online profiles, sending the photos to the relatives of the deceased.

The practice, which is a clear violation of Geneva Conventions and protocols that state that the bodies of dead soldiers must be afforded respect and cannot be subject to ill treatment, was reported on by the Washington Post last Friday. The American newspaper described the macabre and demented campaign, however, as if it were a legitimate military tactic, albeit one that might backfire.

According to Ukrainian officials cited in the story, the US firm Clearview AI gave the country the technology. It has since been used to conduct more than 8,600 facial recognition searches. With the photos of dead Russian troops in hand, a database of 20 billion images from social media and the internet is sifted through in order to identify the individuals. About 10 percent of searched images are from VKontakte, Russia’s most popular social media site.

Ukraine’s IT Army, a volunteer force of hackers working directly for Kiev, has sent photos of corpses to 582 families. The Post article emphasizes their efforts to contact, in particular, mothers of the dead.

“A stranger sent a message to a Russian mother saying her son was dead, alongside a photo showing a man’s body in the dirt—face grimacing and mouth agape,” reported the newspaper. “The recipient responded with disbelief, saying it wasn’t him, before the sender passed along another photo showing a gloved hand holding the man’s military documents.”

The mother replied, “Why are you doing this? Do you want me to die? I already don’t live. You must be enjoying this.”

She is correct. The Post implies that the aim of the photo-sending campaign is to sway the Russian population against the Putin government but notes that it is likely to be “seen inside Russia not as a welcomed exposure to the truth but as a humiliation by the enemy” and trigger the opposite reaction.

Observing that a “dangerous new standard for future conflicts” is being set, Stephanie Hare, a surveillance researcher in London told the Post, “If it were Russian soldiers doing this with Ukrainian mothers, we might say, ‘Oh, my God, that’s barbaric.’ And is it actually working? Or is it making them say: ‘Look at these lawless, cruel Ukrainians, doing this to our boys?’”


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