In a bid to identify the protestors demanding the rollback of India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh used facial recognition technology to control the situation, which even turned violent in some places.
According to a report in the Indian Express, Delhi Police used facial recognition technology on recordings of the protests to identify protestors. Although it said that police forces used facial recognition to identify many protestors, deputy commissioner of police at Delhi’s Crime Records Office Rajan Bhagat said that the department is only using it to nab targets. “We don’t have any protestors’ data, nor do we plan to store it,” he was quoted as saying.
In Delhi’s neighbouring state, Uttar Pradesh, which has the Bharatiya Janata Party as the ruling party just like the central government, a total of 1,100 people were detained for their alleged links to the violence which erupted during anti-CAA protests. Uttar Pradesh police chief OP Singh refused to give the numbers of arrests made using facial recognition and said that this technology helped the department prevent wrongful arrests.
In response to security officials using facial recognition technology, numerous activists and organisations have raised their voices against it. Caricaturist Rachita Taneja said that she doesn’t have any idea what they are going with the collected data. “We need to protect ourselves, given how this government cracks down,” she told Reuters.
The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), an Indian organisation which advocates for the protection of digital rights and liberties, said that police should define clearer rules on the facial recognition technology. The non-profit body also demanded that the police should also provide a disclosure of the software’s audits and algorithms. “What India is seeing is a kind of personal data Wild West,” said executive director of IFF Apar Gupta.
Facial Recognition Adoption Rising In India
Despite concerns from privacy groups, startups which are offering facial recognition technology are demanding implementation across the country. Calling fears of mass surveillance in India as exaggerated, founder of Staqu, Atul Rai said that there is a need for regulation to avoid potential problems. There are difficulties in collecting information because of India’s large population of 1.3 Bn, he added.
According to Reuters, the police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh relied on facial recognition technology provided by Indian startups. While Gurugram-based Staqu helped the UP police, Delhi police used Innefu Labs’ facial recognition software — AI Vision — to surveil on protestors.
According to a TechSci report, the facial recognition technology business is expected to grow from $700 Mn in 2018 to over $4 Bn by 2024 thanks to India’s national-level surveillance plans. The central government has already opened bids to build a centralised facial recognition surveillance system across India.
The government has also added the use of facial recognition for Aadhaar authentication process and services such as mobile SIM, for banking services, public distribution system, and marking of office attendance at government offices.
Moreover, the ministry of civil aviation has been working a DigiYatra platform to enable paperless travel and avoid identity checks at various checkpoints in the airport, by setting up a facial recognition system since 2018.
Other companies which are operating in this burgeoning segment include Japanese IT company NEC Corp, AIndra Labs, FaceX, among others.