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Facial Recognition Is Out of Control in India

Vice recently published an article on the use of biometric data by law enforcement in India. Find it here.

As the use of facial recognition technology has grown rampant worldwide, even briefly being used by the Chinese government for their surveillance of the Uighur population, in recent years, the Indian government has begun using it frequently in law enforcement with little regulation at the federal or state level. Photos of Indian citizens are being actively, and seemingly randomly collected to add to a database used to profile and eventually surveil them. This rampant violation of citizen privacy rights comes with no safeguard for citizens nor any accountability for the law enforcement using the technology.

The continued deployment of facial recognition technology in Indian law enforcement comes with the potential (and even precedent) for misuse and mass surveillance. In Telangana, the Indian city with over half of the total CCTV cameras in use in the country, each citizen that has had their data collected has a 360-degree profile built of them in a smart governance program; the risks of such a program in a highly surveilled city are clear. Because of the lack of legislation at the national level for facial recognition technology, police can use, or misuse, this technology as they wish, although it is currently cited as being used to fight crime.

In reality, facial recognition in law enforcement is exacerbating societal issues in India. Marginalized groups, such as Muslims, are being subjected to more random checks to be added to the library of profiles and even jailed for minor, alleged, and sometimes preemptive offenses before then having their biometric data collected. These practices reinforce India’s already rigid caste system, as members of marginalized groups in the caste system are often subject to such violations of their privacy.

As with all government use of facial recognition systems, the potential for the systems to return false negative and false positive matches remains; as an example of the problems that could be caused with its use in India, citizens could be prevented from accessing government services if the technology is used to verify Voter ID and returns a false negative. There is no current plan for federal or state-level policy change, but there are several activist groups in India trying to make change and raise accountability for government use of facial recognition.

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