Hyderabad becoming ‘surveillance city,' use of facial recognition must stop: Amnesty

The campaign by Amnesty International calls on Telangana police and vendors to ban the use of facial recognition.
Representative image of police photographing a citizen
Representative image of police photographing a citizen
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Launching a campaign against violation of human rights through the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) by Telangana police, Amnesty International has cautioned that Hyderabad is “on the brink of becoming a total surveillance city.” The 'Ban The Scan' campaign asks citizens to call on Telangana police and vendors to ban the use of facial recognition, which allows for discriminatory policing and threatens the rights of minorities. 

Calling Hyderabad one of the most surveilled cities in the world, Amnesty International also noted the dangers of an upcoming Command and Control Centre (CCC), a police headquarters in Hyderabad’s Banjara Hills which will reportedly allow the processing of data from thousands of facial recognition-capable CCTV cameras in the state, while being connected to them in real-time. 

Hyderabad is the second city in the world where the campaign has been launched, after the previous leg of research into surveillance in New York City. Conducting research in two neighbourhoods of Hyderabad along with the Internet Freedom Foundation and Article 19, Amnesty International found on mapping visible outdoor CCTV infrastructure that the Kala Pathar and Kishan Bagh localities had CCTV coverage in about 53.7% and 62.7% of their entire area. 

Telangana has the largest number of FRT projects in India, a study by the Internet Freedom Foundation had revealed earlier this year. Amnesty International’s AI and Big Data researcher Matt Mahmoudi said that it is almost impossible to walk down the street in Hyderabad without risking exposure to facial recognition. 

Many instances of controversial and dangerous policing practices have been regularly reported in Hyderabad, where police collect fingerprints and photographs of people randomly, as part of Operation Chabutra. More recently, Hyderabad police were found randomly stopping people on the street and looking into their WhatsApp chats as part of their searches to find drug peddlers. 

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