Law enforcement officers in India have used facial recognition to arrest more than 1,100 people in what may be one of the more sweeping applications of biometric state surveillance. The arrests were made following two days of rioting in New Delhi on February 25-26.
Indian home minister Amit Shah has since admitted that Indian police used facial recognition to identify the rioters based on official documents like driver’s licenses and other government-issued photo IDs. Police also had access to people’s Aadhaar numbers while searching for potential suspects.
The unmonitored use of facial recognition has drawn heavy criticism from Indian privacy advocates. They argue that the police are taking advantage of a lax regulatory environment to advance a state surveillance program that violates the civil rights of Indian citizens.
“The use of Aadhaar for this purpose without any judicial authorisation violates the judgement of the Supreme Court,” said the New Delhi-based advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation, citing a 2017 lawsuit that guaranteed people’s fundamental right to privacy.
“All of this is being done without any clear underlying legal authority,” added IFF Executive Director Apar Gupta. “Facial recognition technology is still evolving and the risks of such evolutionary tech being used in policing are significant.”
The facial recognition system was first deployed to help find missing children, though the IFF says that the system was only one percent accurate in 2019. As a result, the organization suggests that it is reasonable to question the validity of any arrest made with the technology.
India’s privacy watchdogs have asked legislators to slow the expansion of facial recognition until more comprehensive privacy guidelines have been created, especially after the Prime Minister began accepting bids for a national surveillance system. Privacy advocates have also expressed their opposition to the use of biometric passenger screening at India’s airports.
March 13, 2020 – by Eric Weiss