Anushka Jain, Associate Counsel at the Internet Freedom Foundation; Likhita, researcher and adviser at Amnesty International; and Matt Mahmoudi, artificial intelligence and big data researcher at Amnesty International, in The Indian Express (November 24, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Srinivas Kodali @digitaldutta on Twitter)
You desperately need to get to the pharmacy to stock up on essentials. As you walk there, almost every street you pass has cameras installed, watching closely as they attempt to identify your face and track your movements. You cross the street, only to be intercepted by police officers who demand that you remove your face mask. You ask why, but no one responds. Then, without explanation, you are lined up and an officer captures your face on a tablet.
This might sound like a scene from a film set in a dystopian world. In fact, this is an emerging reality for the people of Hyderabad, which stands on the brink of becoming a total surveillance city. According to police, more than 600,000 cameras have already been deployed in the city.
Facial recognition technology identifies the distinct features of a person’s face to create a biometric map, which an algorithm then matches to possible individuals. The system searches across databases of millions of images, scraped without knowledge or consent, and often fails.
Yet, many police units in India today continue to acquire and deploy this dangerous and invasive technology. In India, these technological infringements on our human rights are particularly dire. The absence of any legal framework to govern data protection, especially in the context of personal biometric data, means that we are blindly turning our public spaces into sites of technological experimentation, where human rights are sidelined for profit and control.
The proposed Personal Data Protection Bill has been stuck for years in Parliament. Meanwhile, police forces and intelligence agencies have accelerated their unchecked personal data collection. Under the guise of the protection of women and children, huge amounts of public money are being spent on these technologies with no evidence of their effectiveness, further squandering precious public funds.