Face recognition spreads, concern about the lack of data protection law


At some of India’s busiest airports and train stations, facial recognition technology (FRT) software systems are being connected by several government agencies to an expanding network of surveillance cameras to search photo databases to identify people on a real-time basis.

The growing list of users of this technology, which began with the Home Office’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and various police forces, now includes the Indian Airport Authority, Indian Railways, public sector utilities and the mandated government agency all residents of India have a unique identity to rent.

FRT software providers include both domestic and global companies. The systems aim to achieve a number of goals: better identification of criminals, use of law enforcement at train stations, passenger handling at airports, biometric presence in companies, and even mechanisms for authenticating students.


Privacy concerns

In order to increase security, various authorities have installed surveillance cameras in public places. However, once an image database is consolidated, the procurement of facial recognition technology fed with that data shifts the target post for citizens in terms of privacy. Experts have called for data protection laws.

FRT systems are currently in use at airports in Calcutta, Varanasi, Pune, Vijayawada, Bengaluru and Hyderabad as part of a study conducted as part of the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s Digi Yatra initiative.

The Japanese electronics company NEC was commissioned to implement four of these airports – Kolkata, Varanasi, Pune and Vijayawada – which are managed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI). The project is scheduled to start at the end of this year.

AAI is currently testing the solution at Varanasi Airport. “The solution was developed in terms of data security and data protection in accordance with prevailing industry standards. User consent will be obtained before biometric data is collected as part of the Digi Yatra program registration process, ”an AAI spokesman said in response to a request from The Indian Express.

As part of Indian Railways’ broader plan to install facial recognition technology at train stations to “identify criminals,” Western Railway has deployed 470 real-time FRT video cameras developed by Russian video analytics firm NtechLab and certified by Research Designs and Standards Organization (RDSO), a technical advisor and advisor to Indian Railways.

The camera system, which should ensure the simultaneous detection of up to 50 people in a single image, will be used on the busiest section of the network. With the video analysis system, in addition to the declared aim of “identifying criminals” and “searching for missing people”, according to the system provider, a “strategy” can be made by counting the number of passengers on the network at any point in time.

“Our video analytics technology uses a high-precision, real-time face detection mode in the video stream. Images are compared with a database of wanted people. If there is a match, it notifies law enforcement immediately. The entire process, from the person appearing in front of a camera to the reception of a signal by the police, takes less than three seconds. This enables a quick reaction to evolving situations, ”said Andrei Telenkov, CEO of NtechLab.

The NCRB, which compiles crime statistics and maintains a database, uses “an automatic FRT system” to enable “better identification of criminals, unidentified corpses and missing / found children and persons”.

The Home Office has stated that the FRT automatic system will “use police records and will only be accessible to law enforcement agencies”. However, in March 2018, Delhi Police Department, under the Ministry of Interior, acquired automated facial recognition software as a tool to identify lost boys and girls by matching photos, the data of which was then fed into the automated facial recognition system to identify people who have repeatedly turned up in protests and that were photographed during the riots last year.

The software used by the Delhi police is said to have been supplied by the Delhi-based technology company Innefu Lab, which describes itself as a security, analytics and intelligence company. The company lists the Delhi Police Department as a customer on its website, in addition to “more than a dozen LEA departments” where its solutions have been used.

In December 2018, the Uttar Pradesh Police Department used software called Trinetra, developed by the Gurgaon-based company Staqu, to track time using criminal records from the State Police, the Prison Department and the State Railway Police using techniques such as facial recognition, biometric data analysis, and so on .

In addition to law enforcement agencies, energy providers are also relying on the technology. The state-run NTPC Ltd has started implementing FRT alongside biometrics to track employee attendance. According to NTPC guidelines, employee consent is “not required” for the implementation of FRT.

A warning sign is that the extensive use of FRT systems is in the absence of data protection laws that provide necessary safeguards for the collection and storage of user data.

This is especially important as other government agencies planning to deploy FRT systems also include those with a much wider scope – like the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which provides Aadhaar-based Face Authentication in Proof of Concept ( PoC) phase develops authentication mechanisms in addition to biometric and iris-based authentication procedures.

In addition, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) uses face recognition for one-to-one face matching as one of the authentication mechanisms for issuing digital music sheets to students.

The Ministry of Education has informed Parliament that no facial biometric data will be collected or stored and that the use of the application is based on the consent of the person. A government official involved in the exercise said FRT was “distinguishable” from facial authentication mechanisms used by CBSE for digital stamp sheets.

Aside from the fact that these systems are currently operating in a legal vacuum, as India does not yet have specific laws regarding FRT and personal data protection, experts have also highlighted the issue of lack of consent.

While people in a CCTV monitored area may know they are being monitored, using CCTV network images in conjunction with FRT would mean their images would be stored longer, if not permanently.

“This data is also used to extract certain data points such as facial features and other biometric data that the person did not consent to when entering a CCTV-monitored zone, and these data points can be used to identify future movements of the person. Therefore, integrating FRT with a network of CCTV cameras would make real-time surveillance extremely easy, ”wrote the nonprofit Internet Freedom Foundation in a blog post on surveillance-related privacy concerns.

Footage collected through video surveillance devices is subject to rules and regulations set by various states and local law enforcement agencies, and include aspects such as the time that the footage is stored and the uses for which it is used.

However, privacy for all CCTV cameras is governed by the provisions of the Information Technology Act of 2000, which provide “invasion of privacy penalties” for anyone who “intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes, or transmits an image of anyone’s private space”. Person without their consent, in circumstances that violate that person’s privacy ”.

The Indian Express emailed the Railway Board, NTPC and the Department of Education asking for comments on this report but received no responses.


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