India’s Privacy Advocates Voice Concerns About Biometric Surveillance Contract

Biometrics News - India's Privacy Advocates Voice Concerns About Surveillance Contract

Indian privacy advocates are once again voicing their concerns as the government of India prepares to hand out a landmark contract for a national facial recognition surveillance system. The Prime Minister opened the bidding for the contract back in September, for a system that is supposed to help an understaffed police force identify criminals and missing persons.

However, the mechanics of the proposed system are still unclear. The government has not yet told the public where cameras will be deployed, or even how the collected data will be used and stored. While the Indian Supreme Court has previously ruled that privacy is a fundamental human right, the country has not come up with guidelines to regulate the use of biometric information.  

“It is a mass surveillance system that gathers data in public places without there being an underlying cause to do so,” said Internet Freedom Foundation Executive Director Apar Gupta. “Without a data protection law and an electronic surveillance framework, it can lead to social policing and control.”

The backlash echoes international concerns about surveillance based on facial recognition. Cities like San Francisco have banned the practice, while the technology itself is known in some instances to have significant racial biases that can have a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities.

“The use of facial recognition provides a veneer of technological objectivity without delivering on its promise, and institutionalises systemic discrimination,” said Vidushi Marda, an AI researcher with the British human rights organization Article 19. In the UK, the Home Office has come under fire for knowingly deploying a biased facial recognition platform.

It’s worth noting that the government of India has had trouble with data security in the past, with numerous breaches targeting the country’s biometric Aadhaar system.

“National security cannot be the reason to restrict rights,” concluded Gupta. “It is very worrying that technology is being used as an instrument of power by the state rather than as an instrument to empower citizens.”

So far, opposition from privacy advocates has not slowed the government’s enthusiasm for facial recognition. India has already moved forward with plans for city surveillance and biometric e-Gates at the country’s airports.  

Source: Al Jazeera

November 8, 2019 – by Eric Weiss