From the Viewsroom

On the face of it

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on March 16, 2020 Published on March 16, 2020

Facial recognition technologies are dangerous. India should stay away

Last week, Home Minister Amit Shah informed Parliament that more than 1,000 people, allegedly involved in the recent communal violence in Delhi, had been identified using face-recognition technology. Justifying the use of the controversial technology, Shah reasoned that facial identification software does not “discriminate between communities and religions”, and that the investigating agencies had used voter ID data and other information with them to identify rioters. Considering that this is arguably the most important use case for face-tech in India, it can have serious influence and impact over the way deep technologies are going to be used in the country, especially in the garb of enhancing surveillance and for law-enforcement requirements.

At the outset, there is no reason to doubt the government’s intent in using an advanced technology for carrying out a crucial investigation, and in all likelihood the results will help expedite identification of rioters. But given the concerns being raised globally by technologists, rights organisations, businesses and even policymakers over the way face-tech is misused for suppressing dissent, ethnic cleansing, selective penalties, biased community filtering etc, it is best we stay away from endorsing it, especially for profiling crowds.

Evidence from countries such as China, the UK, the US and many other geographies suggest that face-tech, equipped with biometrics, has been used to target, filter out and micromanage vulnerable communities (Blacks, Hispanics in the US, migrants, Muslims, women, people in the LGBTQ communities and so on in many other parts of the world). This is why San Francisco, the city where most such technologies are born, last year passed a law preventing police from using facial technology for surveillance purposes. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office last year launched a probe into the use of CCTV cameras enabled with facial technologies at London’s Kings Cross complex, where individuals’ data was taken and analysed without consent. China has a dubious record of using surveillance tools. A report says there are 11.3 surveillance cameras per 100 people in Shanghai. In Delhi, there just about one per every 100. But India is seeing intense growth in the use of surveillance gear. The government endorsing the use of facial technologies for surveillance can prove to be anti-democratic.

The writer is Deputy Editor with BusinessLine

Published on March 16, 2020
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