With rapid advancements in technology, it has become possible to use face recognition with a simple surveillance camera to identify people and this could be used for security purposes. Let’s begin with understanding what facial recognition is. It is technology used to identify and verify people from camera footage. The core data sets that fuel this technology are images of multiple people from various angles. Facial recognition software can also use images from confidential sources such as passports and other identification documents.
What are its benefits? Well, it entirely depends on how we decide to use it.
People use facial recognition to unlock new generation smartphones. Filters on popular social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok also implement this technology to entertain users. China has introduced facial-recognition cameras in restrooms that can identify toilet paper thieves (yes, it’s a big problem in China).
The use cases for facial-recognition technology are everywhere. But, will implementing this tech in all available cases necessarily make our lives better?
Consider this. The Indian government is planning to set up an Automated Face Recognition System (AFRS) across the nation. According to them, such a system is necessary because the country’s police department suffers from a lack of personnel. There are only 144 police officials for every 100,000 Indians, which, according to the United Nations, is a low ratio compared to other countries.
India suffers from a high crime rate, notably in areas populated by poorer citizens. India is also behind in terms of surveillance facilities set up. For example, New Delhi only has 10 CCTV cameras set up for every 1000 people, compared to 40 and 160 in Beijing and Shenzhen. Rural India, in spite of containing most of her population, has little to no surveillance.
The government believes that facial-recognition technology can provide the police with the support required to tackle criminal activities and protect communities that need the most attention.
The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), a national agency that operates under the home ministry, has gathered various bids from companies for developing a facial recognition surveillance system. The NCRB will also provide a centralized database for images obtained from multiple sources such as newspapers, CCTV cameras, passports, and public records. Artistic sketches can also be uploaded.
In its 172-page document, the NCRB said, “This is an effort in the direction of modernizing the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification and its dissemination among various police organizations and units across the country.”
PUBLIC’S TAKE ON Automated Facial Recognition System
Understandably, it can come off as innovative to its supporters and dystopian to its opponents. While both sides have arguments that hold merit, here are the pros and cons of this system:
- The police can take swift action when notified by the system about criminal activities.
- The system can locate missing individuals (children and adults alike) with ease, using their last viewed location.
- It will become easier to track unknown people and dead bodies.
Crime prevention is crucial, as well as challenging. With such technology, this becomes easier. Authorities can track patterns that hint at any criminal activities. The police can tackle crime by constantly surveilling potential criminals in crime-infested locations. They can track unusual behaviour and mitigate violations.
In April 2019, the Delhi Police identified almost 3000 missing children in four days using the beta of a facial recognition system.
The NCRB also asserted that they would not use images from the Aadhar database. The facial recognition technology would only be available to the police in a controlled environment. They also cannot access CCTV footage unless a crime takes place.
- While the technology is advanced, it cannot accurately detect the faces of individuals across skin-tones and genders.
- If cyber pirates hack the system, confidential information of Indian citizens gets compromised.
- Although the central government will control it, potential exists to misuse such surveillance to spy on its citizens.
- Setting up a surveillance system across the nation will require massive government expenditure.
Opponents of the AFRS highlight that the use of facial recognition to monitor Indian citizens is a breach of democratic freedom. Presently, there is no law supporting the use of this technology, and there is no law that protects citizens from the potential misuse of this system. The current law (or lack thereof) cripples’ activists in their quest to fight the AFRS in court.
With a lack of data protection laws and oversight, facial recognition can become a curse rather than a blessing. Governments are responsible for the well-being of their citizens. Ideally, they should first create infrastructure that protects law-abiding citizens from the draw backs of surveillance before implementing a system such as AFRS.
Individual privacy has been considered as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court of India.
With AFRS, India has the potential to double down on fighting crime and reduce its alarmingly high occurrence. The police will be able to tackle crime more effectively, and, as a result, make the country safer.
But, in the pursuit of a seemingly noble cause, it is important to understand that humans have a responsibility towards their mental wellbeing. If facial recognition ends up being used for activities such as moral policing and thought patrol, it becomes a recipe for anxiety, limited free expression, and an environment of fear.
Technology exists to make our lives more comfortable, and we need to understand when it will threaten our fundamental rights, and as a result, our progress as a race.
This article is contributed by Ashwin A serial entrepreneur with 12 years of diverse experience in the alternative finance, documentary filmmaking, and nvestment banking spaces, this is his third venture. Being a quick thinker with gifted business acumen has helped him scale the upper echelons of the professional world and launch profitable ventures.