India is moving forward with plans to set up a massive facial recognition surveillance scheme. The proposed system would centralize biometric data from multiple national databases, and would gather new data through a network of facial recognition cameras that would be set up throughout the country.
Officials are hoping that the new system will help an understaffed police force catch criminals and identify missing persons. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to open the bidding to build the new system sometime next month, although he will be doing so despite objections from Indian privacy advocates.
“We’re the only functional democracy which will set up such a system without any data protection or privacy laws,” said Apar Gupta, a Delhi lawyer and the executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation. “It’s like a gold rush for companies seeking large unprotected databases.”
While the Indian Supreme Court has ruled that privacy is a fundamental right, the country has a spotty history when it comes to protecting people’s personal information. The Unique Identification Authority of India has had to account for several breaches of the country’s Aadhaar program, including allegations that Aadhaar enrollment technology is being sold on the black market.
For privacy advocates, those issues raise questions about the country’s ability to manage such a far-reaching system, especially since most of the companies bidding for the contract are expected to be foreign providers and could expose the country to international surveillance. To bid, companies must be able to meet NIST standards, which takes many Indian facial recognition companies out of the running.
There are also concerns that the system would increase discrimination against the country’s minority groups and members of lower castes. Once completed, the system would rival China’s in terms of scope and cost. The facial recognition market in India is expected to hit $4.3 billion by 2024.
September 20 2019 – by Eric Weiss