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Facial recognition

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    6th Aug, 2019

The Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) has been proposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs that aims to modernise the police force by identifying criminals and also enhances information sharing between police units across the country.

Context

The Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) has been proposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs that aims to modernise the police force by identifying criminals and also enhances information sharing between police units across the country.

About

What is AFRS?

  • The AFRS will use images from sources like CCTV cameras, newspapers, and raids to identify criminals against existing records in the Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and System (CCTNS) database, which is managed by National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB, it manages crime data for police).
  • The new facial recognition system will also be integrated with Integrated Criminal Justice System (ICJS), as well as state-specific systems, the Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration & Tracking (IVFRT), and the Khoya Paya portal on missing children.
  • Significance: It can play a very vital role in crime prevention and criminal identification and verification (identifying criminals, missing people, and unidentified dead bodies) by facilitating easy recording, analysis, retrieval and sharing of information between different organizations.

How AFRS works?

  • It works by maintaining a large database with photos and videos of peoples’ faces.
  • Then, a new image of an unidentified person is compared to the existing database to find a match and identify the person.
  • Neural networking is the artificial intelligence technology used for pattern-finding and matching.
  • It will not only create a biometric map of our faces, but also track, classify, and possibly anticipate our every move.

Are there any AFRS in use in India?

  • It is a new idea the country has started to experiment with. Ministry of Civil Aviation’s “DigiYatra” using facial recognition for airport entry is already in trial in the Hyderabad airport.
  • State governments have also taken their own steps towards facial recognition. Telangana police launched their own system in August 2018.

Question on violation of privacy

  • Government says that no violation of privacy as it will only track criminals and be accessed only by law enforcement.
  • However, AFRS not only creates a biometric map of our faces, but can also track, classify, and possibly anticipate our every move.
  • Technically speaking, it is impossible for the AFRS to be truly used only to identify, track and verify criminals, despite the best of intentions.
  • Recording, classifying and querying every individual is a prerequisite for the system to work.

Assumed guilty

  • The system will treat each person captured in images from CCTV cameras and other sources as a potential criminal, creating a map of her face, with measurements and biometrics, and match the features against the CCTNS database.
  • This means that we are all treated as potential criminals when we walk past a CCTV camera — turning the assumption of “innocent until proven guilty” on its head.

Argument of efficiency

  • It is assumed that facial recognition will introduce efficiency and speed in enforcing law and order. In August 2018, a facial recognition system used by the Delhi police was reported to have an accuracy rate of only 2%. This is a trend worldwide, with similar levels of accuracy reported in the U.K. and the U.S.
  • Accuracy rates of facial recognition algorithms are particularly low in the case of minorities, women and children, as demonstrated in multiple studies across the world.
  • Use of such technology in a criminal justice system where vulnerable groups are over-represented makes them susceptible to being subjected to false positives (being wrongly identified as a criminal).
  • Image recognition is an extremely difficult task, and makes significant errors even in laboratory settings. Deploying these systems in consequential sectors like law enforcement is ineffective at best and disastrous at worst.

Fears of mass surveillance

  • Facial recognition makes data protection close to impossible as it is predicated on collecting publicly available information and analysing it to the point of intimacy.
  • It can also potentially trigger a seamless system of mass surveillance, depending on how images are combined with other data points.
  • The AFRS is being contemplated at a time when India does not have a data protection law. In the absence of safeguards, law enforcement agencies will have a high degree of discretion.

Way Ahead

  • The notion that sophisticated technology means greater efficiency needs to be critically analysed.
  • The Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 is yet to come into force, and even if it does, the exceptions contemplated for state agencies are extremely wide.
  • A deliberative approach will benefit Indian law enforcement, as police departments around the world are currently learning that the technology is not as useful in practice as it seems in theory.
  • Police departments in London are under pressure to put a complete end to use of facial recognition systems following evidence of discrimination and inefficiency.
  • San Francisco recently implemented a complete ban on police use of facial recognition. India would do well to learn from their mistakes.

Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS)

  • It is a countrywide integrated database on crime incidents and suspects, connecting FIR registrations, investigations, and charge sheets of all police stations and higher offices.
  • It also plans to offer citizen services, such as passport verification, crime reporting, online tracking of case progress, grievance reporting against police officers.

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