It is a technology that captures facial features and the contours of a person for the purpose of preparing a database for future potential comparisons. It can also be used to confirm the identity of a person from a digital facial image or a video frame. Though Facial Recognition (FR) has been around since the 20th century, it is only in recent times that it has captured the spotlight after increasing interest in Artificial Intelligence.
The deployment of technology in law Enforcement has been escalating on a scale that is unprecedented in the 21st century. In India itself, the government has approved National Automated Facial Recognition System (NAFRS), aimed to improve the accuracy in crime prediction and management, by extracting facial biometrics from public videos and CCTV footage and thereafter matching them with the existing crime database. This will be a sophisticated and structured addition to the existing surveillance mechanisms by the central and state government.
Doomsday: Facial Recognition in India
This comes after a global outcry about the fallacy in the use of facial recognition techniques. There have been concerns about the design and technical application of the technology, which would only lead to a complex web of algorithmic injustice ushered in by its use. As it is with every technology, if used rightly can help in the progression of society at large, but on the other hand, it can also be deemed as a slippery slope of legal and ethical quandary. India has deployed Facial Recognition tools across the country, in schools, at railway stations, identifying citizenship law protestors, airports etc.
The nationwide drive comes at a time when there is no legislation on the deployment of AI technologies and the Privacy and Data Protection bill (PDPB) has still not been enacted. The lack of robust legal structures has in no way hampered the unprecedented use of Facial Recognition tools, and by 2020 the government has approved the federal level implementation of NAFRS in the criminal justice system to “facilitate investigation of crime and detection of criminals”, by gathering existing data from the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System, the Interoperable Criminal Justice System, the prisons database, the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s Khoya-Paya portal, National Automated Fingerprint Identification System or any other image database available with the police or any government entity. Many states like Kerala, Bihar, Telangana, Punjab, Delhi, Chennai are using FTR in their criminal justice department.
Acting Nostradamus: Off-target Results of FTR
The results from various research institutes and leading research centres about facial recognition tools depict unreliability and inaccuracy. The results have been skewed even in an ideal setting that is far from the real world and the expanding external environmental factors, the scare of misidentification and failure to identify looms large. The grave consequences of misidentification will only further widen the gap of discrimination and injustice in India based on gender and race. The grim reminder of a panopticon surveillance system mimicking that of one in China is no more a farfetched idea. Many reports suggest that the accuracy rates of facial recognition are lowest among women, children, racial minorities and non-binary gender.
Armageddon: Privacy risks when Big brother is watching you
The fundamental Right to Privacy thought not a new concept but is at a nascent stage in terms of its implementation. The legal lacuna in regulating facial recognition is extremely daunting for the privacy and data protection of individuals. The implementation of nationwide surveillance and collection of large datasets impinges on the fundamental rights of individuals making it unconstitutional. Due to the lack of any regulation for facial recognition, there is no quality check, permissible accuracy test, independent authority managing and regulating facial recognition. The level of collection of personal data of billions of Indian citizens is alarming. The personal data of individuals that will be at the disposal of law enforcement without informed consent would hamper the rights of individuals to have the liberty to share their personal information or not. Right to privacy is the weakest when contesting against structured and systematic penetration of government-mandated mass surveillance in the name of security and national interest.
The lack of transparency and accountability by state and national agencies would only lead to an undemocratic outcome. Private companies will soon, if not already, make use of the technology to further the needs of economic profit at the cost of human rights. The ethical issues encircling facial recognition are not just limited to privacy and data protection but touch upon social and political foundations. A technology only by its application is termed as evil, and facial recognition, the lack of information on its application, will have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression of individuals undermining the personal autonomy of Indian citizens.
The need for regulation is imperative, but awareness about the possible pitfalls of the implementation of the technology. The legal basis for an intrusion to the fundamental right to privacy of an individual should be clearly established. This will aid legislators to ascertain accountability for the technology. Before the technology transcends to a stage where regulation will not be possible to protect the rights of the individuals, there needs to be an action plan and public discussion about the implementation of the technology. Democratic participation will further strengthen the trust in governmental agencies. Private incentives should not drive public policy on facial recognition, in order to not be overwhelmed by technology anarchy, it is essential to build a robust regulatory mechanism that is not driven by political and/ or economic interests.
This article was written by Srishti Tripathy.