India’s Government Amps Up Facial Recognition Deployment, Claims The Only People Affected Are Criminals
from the sun's-out,-faces-out dept
Prime Minister Nahendra Mohdi’s government has apparently peered over the Great Wall of China (to pedants: figuratively, of course) and liked what it was seeing. China is the world leader in pervasive surveillance — something the government uses to shield the government from criticism and to keep the people the government considers to be undesirable under the bootheel.
It would be inconceivable to believe at this point that this isn’t the aim of the Mohdi government. Since his election in 2014, Mohdi has been increasingly taking direct control of communications (mainly via laws targeting internet use) and ensuring no Indian citizen goes unsurveilled.
The Indian government is home to one of the largest biometric databases in the world, one that contains at least some information on most of the nation’s 1.2 billion residents. And it’s going to get bigger. Anyone stopped, detained, or arrested by Indian law enforcement is forced to submit iris/retina scans to the national database, under the theory this will “modernize policing” and “increase the conviction rate.”
The easiest way to expand this biometric collection is to allow cops to hassle as many people as humanly possible. Since “detainment” isn’t clearly defined, any interaction with law enforcement can lead to the harvesting of biometric details. And that’s being accelerated by the Indian government’s apparently unconditional embrace of facial recognition tech.
It’s an obvious abuse of police power. Agnee Ghosh’s article for Vice details a routine traffic stop that devolved into the forcible collection of the driver and passenger’s facial images. That the two people stopped were Muslim minorities adds to the impression these programs are being aggressively rolled out to monitor residents the government considers to be inherently suspicious.
It’s well known that facial recognition tech is less accurate when it deals with anything but white males. The adverse side effects of false positives and negatives don’t appear to matter much to India’s law enforcement agencies, which deploy the tech carelessly while comforting themselves with empty statements claiming the only people hurt by pervasive surveillance are criminals. Here’s more from the Vice article:
The Hyderabad city police department is known for employing facial recognition for a variety of objectives, including questionable cordon and search operations, profiling people for narcotics, and unlawful phone-searching activities. They claim that facial recognition technology has worked as a “deterrent” and helped them apprehend criminals.
“We don’t infringe upon the privacy of any individual, as we are not barging into anybody’s house to take pictures,” C.V. Anand, Hyderabad’s police commissioner, told Reuters in January. “The technology is being used only to keep surveillance on criminals or suspected criminals.”
The only possibly true statement here is that the tech has helped apprehend criminals. Every other assertion is bogus. It’s clear Indian law enforcement does not limit its surveillance to criminals and suspected criminals. And just because you haven’t “barged into anybody’s house” doesn’t mean the surveillance dragnet the Indian government oversees isn’t violating anyone’s rights.
Hyderabad’s surveillance is symptomatic of the state it’s located in. What’s been installed in the state of Telangana is downright dystopic. It is home to nearly 300,000 police-owned CCTV cameras — over 60% of the entire country’s total. It is also home to the largest number of facial recognition programs in any Indian state.
Everything collected by static cameras and questionable police activity feeds into a central database, which immediately belies the Hyderabad police official’s claim the surveillance programs only target suspected criminals.
In Telangana, there are numerous facial recognition datasets that are being integrated into a “smart governance program,” called Samagram, which gives the state government a full picture of every resident’s life, including their employment status and other personal information. The goal isn’t only to track down criminals, but to build up a ‘360 degree view’ of every single person.
Hundreds of thousands of cameras, combined with national and local biometric collection programs, have turned the supposed democracy into a police state. Not only is it pervasive, it’s patchwork. With no national guidelines, local agencies are allowed to collect and retain data with nearly zero restrictions. Centralized databases are overseen by states, with national surveillance programs layered over the top of the local level panopticons. It’s unclear where the responsibility lies when a (inevitable) data breach occurs and the lack of coherent oversight (or any indication government at any level has any interest in overseeing these programs) encourages abuse. Above all of this lie the statements of public officials, who directly contradict police statements about limiting surveillance to criminals when bragging about the tech they’re using.
It’s ugly and it’s only going to get worse. The national government backs a prime minister who appears to want to convert a democracy to an autocracy. The surveillance programs in use aren’t there for public safety. They’re just a very affordable form of oppression.