Why Russia is Heading Toward an HIV Crisis and Privacy Disaster
Russian lawmakers are said to be moving on a bill that would mandate every citizen living with HIV/AIDS must submit to fingerprint data collection, a worrying turn of events in a country that is already seeing the damages of a disastrous HIV policy.
Drafted by a deputy in Russia’s Duma, Roman Khudyakov, the possible change in the law has been authored as an amendment to a federal bill that mandates the fingerprinting of people with so-called “dangerous” diseases. The legislation is part of a wider, mass data gathering effort that would see the collection of fingerprints from foreign migrants and migrant workers, as well as their children if they are over the age of six.
The amendment to that legislation would see the relevant disease control and federal management agencies collect the medical records of patients as well as fingerprints, whereby that data would then be collated into a nationwide database. The wider effort was announced earlier this year and is slated for introduction in July.
The author of the legislation has said the bill is necessary to combat migrants living with HIV from entering the country and then changing their names, at which point they would become difficult to track through current procedural methods. The Russian authorities as a whole appear keen on a universal fingerprinting system as a way to “streamline” current policing procedures and to cut out red-tape and are pursuing various methods to implement that strategy. To be clear, a number of European nations have already moved to at least partially implement so-called biometric ID cards, but the specific targeting of particular populations is a different matter.
The wider bill has already drawn protestation from human rights groups. The draft law would require every single Russian resident to submit to fingerprinting and to register their permanent residence. Non-citizens who refuse could be deported and banned from entering the country for a maximum of 15 years, while citizens can expect a hefty fine.
The entire bill, HIV amendment and all, is said to have the support of a number of high-level government agencies, including the Federal Migration Service, the Interior Ministry, and officials who are in charge of emergency action. However, the head of the State Duma Healthcare Committee, Sergey Kalashnikov, is reportedly against the move and is quoted as saying the legislation crosses a line when it comes to fingerprinting Russian nationals rather than simply collecting records to track migrants.
Critics have charged that this data collection policy will have a chilling effect on disease prevention efforts in particular, forcing people who are leery of government tracking into avoiding healthcare appointments and seeking support and even treatment in case they are subjected to fingerprinting — when it comes to managing HIV, that could be deadly.
There is also a concern that this marks a backdoor way for the government to begin tracking minority populations who are particularly susceptible to certain infectious diseases, namely Russia’s LGBT community as well as sex workers and the impoverished.
Russia has already been heavily criticized for its health policy on HIV. As we’ve previously reported, Putin’s government has been unable to cap rising poverty rates, leaving those with HIV who already find it hard to find employment with little to no wider support. It is also feared that the government’s much criticized gay propaganda law has fed into rising HIV rates.
In fact, data shows that from 2002 to 2012, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Russia jumped by 41 percent, with a 7 percent increase in those infected having occurred in just the past year according to state statistics. That probably isn’t directly a result of the gay propaganda law, but it certainly shows that contrary to Putin’s claims, the measure hasn’t helped stem HIV rates at all. Also, while some of that increase can be absorbed by better screening in the early 2000s, it bucks the trend of most global nations who have worked hard and succeeded in driving down HIV infection numbers.
Given the recent annexation of Crimea, it is feared that Russia’s hostile approach to HIV could affect the area in much the same way as Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is already doing, and in turn undermine Ukraine’s own HIV control measures.
What is clear is that the state’s continued encroachment into Russian citizens’ rights is corrosive, and in this case could seriously harm HIV prevention efforts in a way that could prove damaging for years to come.
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