- GS-3: Science & Technology; Security
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
The ugly face of a crime-fighting move: Facial Recognition
In news Government has been exploring the potential of facial recognition technology.
- To empower the Indian police with information technology, India approved implementation of the National Automated Facial Recognition System (NAFRS)
- It will function as a national-level search platform that will use facial recognition technology: to facilitate investigation of crime or for identifying a person of interest (e.g., a criminal) regardless of face mask, makeup, plastic surgery, beard or hair extension.
- The system compares the faceprint generated with a large existing database of faceprints (typically available to law enforcement agencies) through a database on driver’s licence or police mugshots).
Do You Know?
- FBI in US uses facial recognition technology for potential investigative leads; Police forces in England use facial recognition to tackle serious violence.
- China use facial recognition for racial profiling and mass surveillance — to track Uighur Muslims.
Criticism of NAFRS
- Violates Right to Privacy: As NAFRS will collect, process, and store sensitive private information: facial biometrics for long periods; if not permanently — it will impact the right to privacy.
- Not 100% accurate: Facial recognition does not return a definitive result — it ‘identifies’ or ‘verifies’ only in probabilities (e.g., a 70% likelihood. Though the accuracy of facial recognition has improved over the years due to modern machine-learning algorithms, the risk of error and bias still exists.
- Bias & Prejudice: Research suggests facial recognition software is based on pre-trained models. Therefore, if certain types of faces (such as female, children, ethnic minorities) are under-represented in training datasets, then this bias will negatively impact its performance.
- Fear of Profiling: With the element of error and bias, facial recognition can result in profiling of some overrepresented groups (such as Dalits and minorities) in the criminal justice system.
- Constitutionality Concerns: It is alleged that NAFRS fails the three tests of Puttaswamy Judgement: legitimacy (backed by law), proportionate to its need and least restrictive.
- Lacks Statutory Clarity: There is potential for abuse and misuse of NAFRS especially when there is absence of clear guidelines for its deployment and lack of Comprehensive Data Protection Bill.
- Chilling Effect on Civil Liberties: Unregulated use of facial recognition technology will dis-incentivise independent journalism or the right to assemble peaceably or any other form of civic society activism.
- Federal Challenges: Policing and law and order being State subjects, some Indian States have started the use of new technologies without fully appreciating the dangers involved.
Government must enact a strong and meaningful data protection law, in addition to statutory authorisation of NAFRS and guidelines for deployment to prevent its misuse and abuse.
Connecting the dots:
- Aadhar Public Data Ecosystem
- The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019