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Facial recognition software spreads across India, but regulation is slow

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India’s central and state governments have introduced facial recognition systems (FRS) in recent years without enacting laws regulating their use.

Experts say the growing unprotected use of this potentially invasive technology poses a major threat to the fundamental right to privacy and to citizens’ freedom of speech and expression.

invasive technology

The southern state of Telangana has the most facial recognition technology projects deployed in the country.

Last year, activist SQ Masood was stopped on the street by Telangana police and asked to remove his mask before being photographed, ignoring his objections for no reason.


Masood sued over the state’s use of facial recognition systems. This is the first case in India.

“As a minority and a Muslim in India in the current political scenario, I was upset because I didn’t know where my photos were kept,” Masood said.

“I don’t know which department stores my photos or how my data is used or misused.”

His petition in southern states is seen as a test case as facial recognition systems are rolled out nationwide, and digital rights activists say they violate privacy and other fundamental rights. increase.

In 2019, FRS was used to screen crowds at political rallies. It was the first of its kind in India and raised concerns about privacy and mass surveillance amid nationwide protests against a divisive new citizenship law.

Using it, police traced a suspect involved in a riot in northeast Delhi that killed 53 people.

Some privacy advocates, such as the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), believe the technology is being used for mass surveillance rather than for a specific purpose, with governments claiming it as a solution to fighting crime. doing.

“The use of the system for profiling and surveillance in public congregations is illegal and unconstitutional. It is an act of mass surveillance,” said IFF Executive Director Apar Gupta.

The IFF report estimates that India has installed 32 facial recognition technology systems under Project Panoptic.

fear of surveillance

State surveillance is a major concern in India, especially in light of last year’s Pegasus controversy allegations. Private tech companies like Israel’s NSO are helping Indian law enforcement to step up dangerous surveillance under a thick cloak of secrecy.

On Wednesday, the government approved a controversial criminal procedure (identification) law.


The law expands authorities’ powers to collect biometric and behavioral data of prisoners, arrested persons, and defendants in court.

It also allows the National Criminal Records Service to store this data for up to 75 years and share it with other law enforcement agencies.

Facial recognition technology identifies a person’s facial features to create a biometric map that algorithms match to that person.

The use of facial recognition technology is under scrutiny worldwide. Some countries, such as Belgium and Luxembourg, have banned its use.

The European Union is about to pass one of the most comprehensive facial recognition technology bans to date, while the United States has imposed several city- and state-level bans and moratoriums.

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