Indian Railways is now monitoring commuters with the help of an extensive facial recognition system. The organization has installed nearly 500 cameras to help keep tabs on the millions of passengers that ride its trains on a daily basis.
The network is being rolled out despite the growing public opposition to facial recognition in the country. India’s National Crime Records Bureau has already opened the bidding for a massive facial recognition system, and the police used the technology to arrest more than 1,100 protestors in March of 2020. Those actions have raised the ire of privacy advocates, who have argued that the country needs stricter privacy protections and have asked the government to suspend its use of the technology until such guidelines can be put in place.
The Indian Railways deployment is unlikely to quell those concerns, especially since the NtechLab is providing the facial recognition technology for the system. NtechLab is based in Russia, and operates a network of more than 100,000 cameras in Moscow. However, it is not at all clear that that network is secure after privacy advocates uncovered a pay-for-play scheme that seemed to give regular civilians access to NtechLab search results. NtechLab also faced criticism for developing a FindFace app that could be used to stalk people on social media.
That track record has prompted watchdogs to question the government’s motives when deploying surveillance technology.
“What’s clear from all these projects is that this government is putting surveillance first,” said AI Observatory Founder Divij Joshi. “Often security becomes the go-to excuse for these things, but it is so weak and widely defined with such few safeguards that it could easily turn into moral policing of interfaith couples or activists, or whomever they want.”
In the meantime, NtechLab has continued to grow its customer base despite those privacy concerns. The company recently opened a new office in Abu Dhabi to raise its profile in the Middle East, and believes that there is a high demand for its product in India.
“India is a huge market for video surveillance, among the biggest worldwide. This is the entry point to one of the largest clients there,” said NtechLab CEO Andrey Telenkov. “Now it is a few railway stations, but I believe they do want to expand the solution across the entire network.”
The Indian Railways network has now been active for a month, at 30 stations in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. That includes the city of Mumbai, which carries upwards of 7 million passengers every single day. The NtechLab system can count passengers and identify people wearing masks, and can match as many as 50 individuals at the same time.
Source: Financial Times
August 30, 2021 – by Eric Weiss