Facial Recognition System (FRS) and related Issues in India

Context

  • Recently experts have pointed out that rapid deployment of facial recognition system by the government without any law in place poses a huge threat to privacy rights and freedom of speech and expression.
  • There are currently 16 different facial recognition tracking (FRT) systems in active utilisation by various Central and State governments across India for surveillance, security or authentication of identity. Another 17 are in the process of being installed by different government departments.

Facial Recognition System (FRS)

  • Face recognition is a method of identifying or verifying the identity of an individual using his/her face. A facial recognition system is a technology capable of matching a human face from a digital image or a video frame against a database of faces.
  • It can be used to identify people in photos, video, or in real-time. Usually, it is employed to authenticate users through ID verification services, and works by pinpointing and measuring facial features from a given image.
  • Face recognition is a method of identifying or verifying the identity of an individual using his/her face. A facial recognition system is a technology capable of matching a human face from a digital image or a video frame against a database of faces.
  • It can be used to identify people in photos, video, or in real-time. Usually, it is employed to authenticate users through ID verification services, and works by pinpointing and measuring facial features from a given image.

Issues with FRS in India

  • Lack of Regulation: While the Facial Recognition System has seen rapid deployment by multiple government departments in recent times, there are no specific laws or guidelines to regulate the use of this potentially invasive technology.
  • Threat of Privacy Breach: It also poses a huge threat to the fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and expression because it does not satisfy the threshold the Supreme Court had set in its landmark privacy judgment in the ‘Justice K.S. Puttaswamy Vs Union of India’ case. In 2018, the Delhi police became one of the first law enforcement agencies in the country to start using the technology. It, however, declined to answer to a Right to Information (RTI) query on whether it had conducted “privacy impact assessment” prior to deployment of the facial recognition system (FRS).
  • Function Creep: A function creep happens when someone uses information for a purpose that is not the original specified purpose. In this light, experts have pointed out that the police have got permission to use the FRS by an order of the Delhi High Court for tracking missing children. But now they are using it for wider security and surveillance and investigation purpose, which is a function creep. For example, the Delhi police, has used it for comparing the details of people involved in violence during the anti-Citizenship Act protests in Jamia Millia Islamia with a data bank of more than two lakh anti-social elements.
  • Over-policing and Mass Surveillance: Due to lack of regulation and functional creep, its use is opaque. This might lead to an over-policing problem where certain minorities are targeted without any legal backing or any oversight as to what is happening. Another associated problem that may arise is of mass surveillance, wherein the police are using the FRT system during protest.
  • Questionable Accuracy: Experts currently working on the deployment and implementation of FRT projects in the country have questioned the accuracy of FRS technology. It may automate discriminatory policing and will exacerbate existing injustices in our criminal justice system. There can be a ‘false positive’ wherein somebody is recognised as somebody they are not or ‘false negative’ wherein the system refuses to recognise the person as themselves.

Way Forward

  • Presently, FRSs are being developed and deployed across India without any credible legal framework in place, which necessitates the urgent enaction of a law to regulate FRS across the country.
  • A facial recognition system without any safeguards or remedies is afflicted with the threat of exclusion, profiling and surveillance. Without urgent action, such systems of mass surveillance will erode democratic liberties and threaten the rights of lakhs of Indians.
  • Therefore, it is imperative to regulate the technology and put a sound legal and technological framework along with a standard operating procedure to bring transparency and ward off any fear originating from its use.

Source: Civil Services Chronicle February 2021

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