Context: Right to Information (RTI) responses received by the Internet Freedom Foundation, a New-Delhi based digital rights organisation, reveal that the Delhi Police treats matches of above 80% similarity generated by its facial recognition technology (FRT) system as positive results.
Why is the Delhi Police using facial recognition technology?
- The Delhi Police first obtained FRT for the purpose of tracing and identifying missing children.
- According to RTI responses received from the Delhi Police, the procurement was authorised as per a 2018 direction of the Delhi High Court in Sadhan Haldar vs NCT of Delhi.
- Things took a turn after multiple reports came out that the Delhi Police was using FRT to surveil the anti-CAA protests in 2019.
- In 2020, the Delhi Police stated in an RTI response that, though they obtained FRT as per the Sadhan Haldar direction which related specifically to finding missing children, they were using FRT for police investigations.
- The widening of the purpose for FRT use clearly demonstrates an instance of ‘function creep’ wherein a technology or system gradually widens its scope from its original purpose to encompass and fulfil wider functions.
- As per available information, the Delhi Police has consequently used FRT for investigation purposes and also specifically during the 2020 northeast Delhi riots, the 2021 Red Fort violence, and the 2022 Jahangirpuri riots.
What is facial recognition?
- Facial recognition is an algorithm-based technology which creates a digital map of the face by identifying and mapping an individual’s facial features, which it then matches against the database to which it has access.
- It can be used for two purposes: firstly, 1:1 verification of identity wherein the facial map is obtained for the purpose of matching it against the person’s photograph on a database to authenticate their identity.
- For example, 1:1 verification is used to unlock phones. However, increasingly it is being used to provide access to any benefits or government schemes.
- Secondly, there is the 1:n identification of identity wherein the facial map is obtained from a photograph or video and then matched against the entire database to identify the person in the photograph or video.
- Law enforcement agencies such as the Delhi Police usually procure FRT for 1:n identification.
- For 1:n identification, FRT generates a probability or a match score between the suspect who is to be identified and the available database of identified criminals.
- A list of possible matches are generated on the basis of their likelihood to be the correct match with corresponding match scores.
- However, ultimately it is a human analyst who selects the final probable match from the list of matches generated by FRT.
- According to Internet Freedom Foundation’s Project Panoptic, which tracks the spread of FRT in India, there are at least 124 government authorised FRT projects in the country.
Why is the use of FRT harmful?
- India has seen the rapid deployment of FRT in recent years, both by the Union and State governments, without putting in place any law to regulate their use.
- The use of FRT presents two issues: issues related to misidentification due to inaccuracy of the technology and issues related to mass surveillance due to misuse of the technology.
- Extensive research into the technology has revealed that its accuracy rates fall starkly based on race and gender.
- This can result in a false positive, where a person is misidentified as someone else, or a false negative where a person is not verified as themselves.
- Cases of a false positive result can lead to bias against the individual who has been misidentified.
- In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Amazon’s facial recognition technology, Rekognition, incorrectly identified 28 Members of Congress as people who have been arrested for a crime.
- Of the 28, a disproportionate number were people of colour.
- The use of this technology by law enforcement authorities has already led to three people in the U.S. being wrongfully arrested.
- However, even if accurate, this technology can result in irreversible harm as it can be used as a tool to facilitate state sponsored mass surveillance.
- At present, India does not have a data protection law or a FRT specific regulation to protect against misuse.
- In such a legal vacuum, there are no safeguards to ensure that authorities use FRT only for the purposes that they have been authorised to, as is the case with the Delhi Police.
- FRT can enable the constant surveillance of an individual resulting in the violation of their fundamental right to privacy.
Source: The Hindu