Indian privacy advocates are once again pushing back against the country’s expanding facial recognition network, and are asking legislators to create clearer policies to govern the use of the technology. The latest demands come after the Lucknow police announced that they would be using facial recognition technology (FRT) to watch for women in distress.
The Lucknow system is ostensibly designed to prevent street harassment, but critics argue that the police are only using public safety as a pretense to increase their surveillance powers. They also warned that many commercial facial recognition systems are not designed with public safety in mind, since those companies are more interested in selling their product than they are in protecting people’s privacy.
“Considering the explicit and expansive findings on privacy by the Supreme Court, one of the first set of laws or regulations ought to have been on CCTV camera usage and FRT,” said Supreme Court Lawyer and cyber-law specialist N.S. Nappinai. “My concern is that intrusive technologies are being used in the name of protection of women and children but without checks and balances.”
Privacy advocates also voiced concerns about the accuracy of facial recognition tech, especially given the increase in mask usage during the COVID-19 pandemic. In that regard, they cited a NIST study that found that algorithms that were built before the pandemic struggled to identify people once their faces had been covered.
“In the case of the Telangana state election commission, which is using FRT for voter verification, the information they gave us was that their system is accurate only up to 78 percent,” said Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) Associate Counsel Anushka Jain. “With people wearing masks because of the new normal, the accuracy is going to get impacted further.”
The performance of many of those algorithms did improve during a second round of NIST testing. Even so, India’s privacy advocates stressed that the country does not have meaningful data protection laws, which means that citizens do not know who will have access to their personal information when biometric data is collected. The IFF has called for a three-year ban on facial recognition technology, and recently launched a new watchdog project to track the use of the technology in the country.
January 25, 2021 – by Eric Weiss