Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on October 4 announced a Face Recognition Software (FRS) to aid the state police in its investigations. The software, according to the government, will help compare the photos of suspects with a data resource of over 5.30 lakh photos updated in the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network Systems (CCTNS). An official statement from the state police said that the software will help track down accused persons, suspected persons, and missing persons. It will also help in identifying corpses by comparing with the data available with the CCTNS. The software will also share the information about a person to all other police stations and help nab the accused if they happen to commit an offence in another police station limit.
Though the government is touting this technology as one that can create many breakthroughs, privacy experts have raised several concerns, including that of mass surveillance and violation of right to privacy. Some have pointed out that such a technology should be introduced along with a law to regulate usage.
Anushka Jain, an Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency), Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), says, â€śFirstly, when any such technology is introduced, there should be a law to regulate its usage. However, we do not have any laws both at national and state levels. This poses several questions such as â€“ how will the software be used and who is authorised to use it? For how long will the data collected be stored? Will it be deleted, and if so who will delete it?â€ť
Further commenting on the downside of the software, Anushka says that there is no Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the police with regards to usage of FRS.
She says, â€śThe police taking photographs and videos of people in public spaces violates the right to privacy of individuals along with violating the reason for the use of the software, which as per the police will aid in solving crimes.â€ť
In January 2020, the Chennai police had come under criticism after a policeman was found taking videos and pictures of anti-CAA protestors.
This sanction for the state police to photograph and videotape people at public spaces, perhaps including those participating in protests, is mass surveillance, which the Supreme Court has warned against, says Anushka.
â€śWhen there are no laws or SOPs for using FRS, the possibility of police personnel misusing the data is also high,â€ť adds Anushka.
Besides the threat of mass surveillance and misuse by the police, Anushka also points out how the software can misidentify accused persons because it operates on algorithms. â€śFRS works on algorithms. If a personâ€™s facial features match another person with a crime history, there are possibilities of the police arresting the wrong person,â€ť Anushka explains.
She further says that IFF believes that governments should refrain from using facial recognition software, because even with regulations it will still violate fundamental rights. Nonetheless any invasive technology should follow regulations that are in compliance with the right to privacy law, Anushka urges.
Meanwhile, the police statement further said that the software will identify any arrest warrant pending against an individual and any crime history of the concerned person. This software can be installed in the computers used in police stations as well as in the smartphones of police personnel who are on ground duty. The statement from the Police Department said that there are plans to update the software to identify faces obtained from CCTV visuals, which could help track down people who are missing.
Prince Gajendra Babu, an education activist who has participated in many protests, says, "More than being helpful in solving crimes, the software seems to be abusive in nature.â€ť
(With IANS inputs)