Facial recognition used in Telangana booths as pilot, not all voters informed

Though the facial recognition technology was used in 10 Telangana booths as part of the pilot project, not all voters were made aware of it.
Facial recognition used in Telangana booths as pilot, not all voters informed
Facial recognition used in Telangana booths as pilot, not all voters informed

Despite objections raised by the AIMIM party regarding the use of facial recognition technology in the municipal polls, the Telangana State Election Commission (TSEC) tested the controversial tool to validate voters on Wednesday. Municipal elections were held in 120 municipalities and 10 municipal corporations across the state.

The pilot was conducted at 10 polling stations in Kompally municipality under the Medchal-Malkajgiri district. Photo data used as a measure to prevent voter impersonation. This was an additional measure besides the regular manual validation by polling officers.

The tool was used in polling stations 13, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 31 and 32. However, some voters reported that they were not aware that the facial recognition technology was being used, and were not asked to give their consent.

Prashanth, a voter, said, “They did not tell me anything about facial recognition technology being used. They took a photo of me on their phone and asked me to proceed further.” 

Many voters echoed the same. “They just took a photo. The process took less than two minutes,” another voter added. There were also no display boards in the polling stations to educate the voters about facial recognition technology being used.

When the voter enters the polling station, an additional polling officer, equipped with the face recognition technology application on a smartphone, checks the identity of the voter and then takes a photo of them. The photo is promptly sent to the Telangana State Technology Services (TSTS) server. The photo is then compared with existing data, which includes photos from the Electoral Photo Identity Card.

“After deep learning, the artificial intelligence would ascertain the identity of the voter and validate them,” G T Venkateshwar Rao, managing director of TSTS told TNM.

Polling officials said that though the technology failed to identify some voters, everyone was allowed to vote. “It is only a measure to eradicate the bogus voters,” a polling officer noted.

The AIMIM party pointed out that as per Supreme Court guidelines for collecting data, taking photos of the voter without their consent can be deemed a violation of a citizen’s right to privacy. AIMIM was the only party to object to the use of facial technology at the polls, and had asked the Election Commission to withdraw the decision. However, the request was made only a day before the elections.

Cyber security experts have also raised an alarm over the use of facial recognition being used during elections. Hyderabad-based open data researcher and activist Srinivas Kodali said that the tool would be used to ‘profile voters.’ He also expressed anxiety over conducting the pilot during the election, and not during mock elections.

Experts have also expressed concerns that the database is susceptible to breaches. However, the TSEC in its circular said that the live photo data was encrypted and that they would be deleted immediately after validation.

TSEC said that the photographs would not be stored or used for any other purposes. The Telangana State Technology Services, which is carrying out the experiment, said that the data would be erased from the phones and the servers after the exercise.   

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