India: Govt. plans to implement large-scale facial recognition system; civil society groups express concerns regarding privacy & surveillance

Under the Narendra Modi government, India is planning to roll out a wide-spread facial recognition system which the government says is to help identify missing people and dead bodies, as well as to fight crime. Civil society groups and technology analysts have expressed concerns about risks to privacy, increased surveillance, and greater marginalisation of minorities given what they see as a lack of legal and policy framework. In June 2019, the National Crime Records Bureau invited bids from companies to help build this system and then extended the bid untul January 2020.

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Article
17 March 2020

Govt. of India has taken steps to implement a social registry that would track every Indian, according to previously undisclosed documents

Author: Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava, HuffPost India

"Exclusive: Documents show Modi govt. building 360 degree database to track every Indian," 17 March 2020

The Narendra Modi government is in the final stages of creating an all-encompassing, auto-updating, searchable database to track every aspect of the lives of each of India’s over 1.2 billion residents, previously undisclosed government documents reviewed by HuffPost India establish. If the plans of Modi’s bureaucrats and advisors are realised, this system will automatically track when a citizen moves between cities, changes jobs, buys new property, when a member of a family is born, dies or gets married and moves to their spouse’s home.

... File notings, meeting minutes and interdepartmental correspondence reviewed by HuffPost India reveal that the government has taken concrete steps towards building this database... If the registry is implemented in its current form, privacy experts warn, the government can use opaque algorithms to sift through reams of data and arbitrarily designate individuals as citizens or non-citizens.

... “India’s safeguards for state surveillance have always been weak. But this near-complete Orwellian surveillance would overturn the balance of power between citizens and the state,” [said Chinmayi Arun, Fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School]. “It may be safe to say that if the state manages successfully to watch us so closely, India’s democracy will gradually become unrecognisable.”

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Article
9 November 2019

India defends plans for facial recognition system

Author: Benjamin Parkin, Financial Times

Indian authorities have defended their plans to build a sweeping facial recognition system after criticism that they are creating a mass-surveillance tool with minimal oversight. The National Crime Records Bureau said the proposed facial recognition system... has adequate approval, does not violate the principle of consent and will be maintained under strict safeguards. Privacy advocates have... [the system] lacks a legal and policy framework and would be open to abuse... In June, the NCRB invited bids from companies to help build a facial recognition system that would allow the police to match people of interest against a database of facial images... [The] deadline for bids... has now been extended until January... The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that Indians have a fundamental right to privacy. A proposed personal data protection bill, designed to instil safeguards on that data, was released in draft form last year but is yet to make its way through parliament.

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Article
7 November 2019

Privacy concerns as India readies facial recognition system

Author: Al Jazeera

As India prepares to install a nationwide facial recognition system in an effort to catch criminals and find missing children, human rights and technology analysts warned of the risks to privacy and from increased surveillance... "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, Internet Freedom Foundation]... [technology site Comparitech said that there is] "little correlation between the number of public CCTV cameras and crime or safety"... "Being watched will become synonymous with being safe, only because of a constant, perpetual curfew on individual autonomy. This risks further entrenching marginalisation and discrimination of vulnerable sections." said Vidushi Marla [lawyer and artificial intelligence researcher at Article 19].

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Article
6 November 2019

India: Government's plans to implement national facial recognition system criticised by human rights experts

Author: E&T Editorial Staff, E&T Magazine

"India’s plans for facial recognition condemned by human rights experts", 7 November 2019

India’s plans to implement a controversial nationwide facial recognition system has been criticised by human rights and technology experts.

The National Automated Facial Recognition System (NAFRS) is expected to be the world’s largest deployment of a facial recognition system. NAFRS received accepted bids by companies over the past months.

With its intended system, the government hopes to enhance security across the nation and provide greater opportunity for capturing criminals, identify lost individuals, dead bodies and more.

Facial recognition technology has already been implemented in select Indian airports over the summer, with the police already reaping the benefits, according to a statement by the Delhi police. It said it had identified nearly 3,000 missing children in just days during a trial after the system was tested on 45,000 children in the city.

Doubts remain over the extent to which the tech could really improve crime and safety rates...

...Other commentators have warned that at the moment there is no real regulation in place to keep tabs on the data to help in avoiding the unlawful use of facial information. 

Facial-recognition surveillance has faced strong opposition already this year in places such as San Francisco, where the authorities banned its use by the city’s staff.

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Article
18 September 2019

India to open bids for companies to create centralized facial recognition system

Author: Archana Chaudhary, Bloomberg

"India Is Planning a Huge China-Style Facial Recognition Program", 19 September 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will open bids [in October 2019] to build a system to centralize facial recognition data captured through surveillance cameras across India. It would link up with databases containing records for everything from passports to fingerprints to help India’s depleted police force identify criminals, missing persons and dead bodies... TechSci Research estimates India’s facial recognition market will grow sixfold by 2024 to $4.3 billion, nearly on par with China... [T]he project is also ringing alarm bells in a nation with no data privacy laws and a government that just shut down the internet for the last seven weeks in the key state of Kashmir to prevent unrest... [T]he lack of proper safeguards opens the door for abuses... “We’re the only functional democracy which will set up such as system without any data protection or privacy laws,” said Apar Gupta, a Delhi-based lawyer and executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation.

... Foreign surveillance companies operating in India include CP Plus, DahuaPanasonic Corp., Bosch Security SystemsHoneywell International Inc., and D-Link India Ltd. Many Indian companies won’t be able to bid on the facial-recognition system because the current tender requires them to meet standards established by the U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology, according to Atul Rai, chief executive officer of Staqu Technologies, an Indian startup.

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