HYDERABAD: Two days after Amnesty International, Internet Freedom Foundation and Article 19 launched #BantheScan campaign, asking the Central and Telangana governments to stop the use of facial recognition system as it can potentially be used to target minority and disadvantaged communities, an incident of concern took place where passersby were forced to remove their masks by the Sultan Bazar police for photographing with a mobile device.
The incident reportedly took place at Osmania Medical College in Koti and was tweeted by a netizen. “Two constables walking on the road near Osmania Medical College were taking photos of people by asking them to remove their masks. When asked why they were doing that, they said that “it was for checking”. Why ask people to remove the masks and take their photos,” the netizen tweeted under the handle name Minnu Netha.
The Sultan Bazar police, however, responded saying that their patrolling staff were using the facial recognition system (FRS) to trace the suspects. This entire process upset the experts working on privacy rights and they condemned such tactics of collecting biometrics of unsuspecting commoners for surveillance purposes without their consent and under police coercion.
“This is nothing but police appropriating to themselves powers even when there is no law in the country that permits them to do so. Till now, all policing used be to done as per Criminal Procedures Code or Indian Penal Code. Under which Indian law is police given the right to take photographs for facial recognition,” asked Srinivas Kodali, a researcher on privacy.
Amnesty International’s campaign explains that there is only one law which allows photographs to be taken of individuals and that is when one is arrested or convicted. “Under the Identification of Prisoner Act of 1920, it is not permitted to take the photographs of persons by police, unless arrested or convicted of a crime. So the photographic capture following mask removal of civilians by police would be considered a violation,” it said.
It also adds that once the police personnel take such photos at random, the racial recognition technology will create a “digital signature” database of numerous faces, which will eventually be compared with many other images when the “identity” of a person involved in crime has to be found. Amnesty International says that historically these technologies are known to misidentify ethnic minorities, people with darker skins and women, which can give rise to even more issues.
“Police call this real time policing. However, dignity of an individual is compromised when police treat he or she as a criminals, and take biometrics and photos,” added Srinivas.Meanwhile, Hyderabad City Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar responded to Amnesty International’s latest campaign and research, stating this facial recognition technology is used only to track missing children.