How foolproof is Amit Shah’s facial recognition technology? IFF raises questions

Delhi Police in an RTI reply on February 20 had claimed that it had not used Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) till then. But Amit Shah has now confirmed that it was activated in February

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NH Web Desk

“CYMI, facial recognition technology was first acquired by the Delhi Police to identify missing children. In 2019, the system had an accuracy rate of 1% and it even failed to distinguish between boys and girls,” tweeted Internet Freedom Foundation on Wednesday.

The tweet followed after Home Minister Amit Shah confirmed in the Lok Sabha that the Automated Facial recognition System (AFRS) had been used by Delhi Police to identify rioters in NE Delhi between February 23 and February 25 and as many as 1,100 of them had been arrested.

IFF also tweeted, “We had filed an RTI with the Delhi Police about their facial recognition system. In its response dated 20 Feb 2020, the Delhi Police stated that the system had not been used till then to identify individuals at protests or rallies but the system is clearly activated now.

“The facial recognition system has been fed data from Aadhaar, driving license and voter ID databases. The use of Aadhaar for this purpose without any judicial authorisation violates the judgement of the Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy v. UoI (2019).”

“We had previously sent a legal notice to the Delhi Government in December 2019 about the use of facial recognition technology against protestors without any legal basis or procedural safeguards.

“All of this is being done without any clear underlying legal authority and is in clear violation of the Right to Privacy judgment (that the Indian apex court upheld in 2017),” said Apar Gupta, executive director at IFF.

“Facial recognition technology is still evolving and the risks of such evolutionary tech being used in policing are significant,” he added.

While the Home Minister waxed eloquent about the technology, which, he claimed did not look at clothes or religion but identified people with what he believed ‘unerring precision’, there is widespread scepticism about the use of mass surveillance and the technology.

While an overwhelming majority of the victims in the rioting in Delhi happened to be Muslims, three times the number of non-Muslims, and although 19 mosques and one Mazar were vandalised and destroyed ( no temple though), an overwhelming majority of the people arrested by Delhi Police happen to be Muslims.

If this is the efficacy of the technology, observers note, then Delhi Police will have a lot to answer for in the coming weeks.

Questions have also cropped up about the use of this mass surveillance technology without any policy framework, discussions or safeguards. In the absence of the Data Protection & Privacy legislation, the use of technology is dubious at best.

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