Human rights and technology experts sounded the alarm of the risk from increased surveillance as India gets ready to install a facial recognition system nationwide in an effort to combat criminality and find missing children.
Use of the camera technology is an effort in “modernising the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification”, according to India’s national crime bureau.
Likely to be among the world’s biggest facial recognition systems, the government contract is due to be awarded on Friday.
But there is little information on where it will be deployed, what the data will be used for and how data storage will be regulated, said Apar Gupta, executive director of non-profit Internet Freedom Foundation.
“It is a mass surveillance system that gathers data in public places without there being an underlying cause to do so,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A spokesman for India’s Home Ministry did not return calls seeking comment.
Worldwide, the rise of cloud computing and artificial intelligence technologies have popularised the use of facial recognition for a range of applications from tracking criminals to catching truant students.
There is a growing backlash however, and in San Francisco authorities banned the use of facial recognition technology by city personnel, and “anti-surveillance fashion” is becoming popular.
Facial recognition technology was launched in a few Indian airports in July, and Delhi police last year said they had identified nearly 3,000 missing children in just days during a trial.
Indian authorities have said facial recognition technology is needed to bolster a severely under-policed country.
There are 144 police officers for every 100,000 citizens, among the lowest ratios in the world, according to the United Nations.
India’s Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling in 2017 on the national biometric identity card programme Aadhaar, said individual privacy is a fundamental right, amid concerns over data breaches and the card’s mandated use for services.
Yet the ruling has not checked the rollout of facial recognition technology, or a proposal to link Aadhaar with social media accounts, said Gupta. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)