Telangana police are being asked to account for their invasive use of facial recognition technology. The Indian state rolled out its facial recognition network in 2018, and is now running the technology through a CCTV network with more than 600,000 cameras. The police have also been using smartphones and tablets to take photos of people on the street to add to the department’s facial recognition database.
It is that practice that is now being challenged in a court of law. A social activist named S Q Masood is claiming that the police stopped him and forced him to remove his mask before taking a picture without his consent on May 19 of 2021. He sent a letter to the Hyderabad police commissioner the next day to try to learn more about how that photo would be used and stored. When that letter was ignored, he teamed up with the Internet Freedom Foundation to file a formal public interest litigation petition on May 31.
Now a state high court division bench is backing Masood’s search for an explanation. The bench has issued a notice to the Telangana government and the Hyderabad police commissioner, asking them to provide more details about their use of facial recognition, and the impact that it has on people’s privacy. A hearing in the case has been scheduled for January 15.
For his part, Masood argues that the police’s facial recognition program infringes on the public’s right to privacy, especially since the program is being run without any real accountability, and without any meaningful legal mandate. India does collect biometric data through its federal Aadhaar program, which is backed up with an act of Parliament.
Facial recognition, on the other hand, is not regulated in such a manner. As it relates to Telangana, the government has not put official safeguards in place to protect people’s privacy, nor has it created any avenues for individual citizens looking to resolve privacy complaints. The government has also not put guidelines in place to prevent the abuse of the technology.
As a result, Masood and the Internet Freedom Foundation believe that the Telangana program is being run in a completely arbitrary fashion, with no particular purpose beyond mass surveillance. The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that people have a fundamental right to privacy, and critics argue that the Telangana program is incompatible with that decision. Amnesty International, for instance, has identified Hyderabad as one of the most heavily monitored cities in the world, yet the people living there are usually not informed that they are being watched.
In an effort to assuage the public’s fears, Hyderabad’s police commissioner has stated that facial recognition is only use to monitor criminals and suspected criminals. The Internet Freedom Foundation has called for a three-year ban on facial recognition to give Indian lawmakers more time to craft laws that will protect people’s civil liberties.
Source: The Hindustan Times
January 7, 2022 – by Eric Weiss