Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Automated Facial Recognition System of India and its Implications

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Vaishnavi Krishna Mohan

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Automated Facial Recognition System of India and its Implications


Global Views 360

Publication Date

February 2, 2021


CCTV in operation

CCTV in operation | Source: Rich Smith via Unsplash

On 28th of June 2019, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) opened bids and invited Turnkey Solution providers to implement a centralized Automated Facial Recognition System, or AFRS, in India. As the name suggests, AFRS is a facial recognition system which was proposed by the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, geared towards modernizing the police force and to identify and track criminals using Facial Recognition Technology, or FRT.

The aforementioned technology uses databases of photos collected from criminal records, CCTV cameras, newspapers and media, driver’s license and government identities to collect facial data of people. FRT then identifies the people and uses their biometrics to map facial features and geometry of the face. The software then creates a “facial signature” based on the information collected. A mathematical formula is associated with each facial signature and it is subsequently compared to a database of known faces.

This article explores the implications of implementing Automated Facial Recognition technology in India.

Facial recognition software has become widely popular in the past decade. Several countries have been trying to establish efficient Facial Recognition systems for tackling crime and assembling an efficient criminal tracking system. Although there are a few potential benefits of using the technology, those benefits seem to be insignificant when compared to the several concerns about privacy and safety of people that the technology poses.

Images of every person captured by CCTV cameras and other sources will be regarded as images of potential criminals and will be matched against the Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and Systems database (CCTNS) by the FRT. This implies that all of us will be treated as potential criminals when we walk past a CCTV camera. As a consequence, the assumption of “innocent until proven guilty” will be turned on its head.

You wouldn’t be surprised to know that China has installed the largest centralized FRT system in the world. In China, data can be collected and analyzed from over 200 million CCTVs that the country owns. Additionally, there are 20 million specialized facial recognition cameras which continuously collect data for analysis. These systems are currently used by China to track and manipulate the behavior of ethnic Uyghur minorities in the camps set up in Xinjiang region. FRT was also used by China during democracy protests of Hong Kong to profile protestors to identify them. These steps raised concerns worldwide about putting an end to a person’s freedom of expression, right to privacy and basic dignity.

It is very likely that the same consequences will be faced by Indians if AFRS is established across the country.

There are several underlying concerns about implementing AFRS.

Firstly, this system has proven to be inefficient in several instances. In August 2018, Delhi police used a facial recognition system which was reported to have an accuracy rate of 2%. The FRT software used by the UK's Metropolitan Police returned more than a staggering 98% of false positives. Another instance was when American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) used Amazon’s face recognition software known as “Rekognition” to compare the images of the legislative members of American Congress with a database of criminal mugshots. To Amazon’s embarrassment, the results included 28 incorrect matches.. Another significant evidence of inefficiency was the outcome of an experiment performed by McAfee.  Here is what they did. The researchers used an algorithm known as CycleGAN which is used for image translation. CycleGAN is a software expert at morphing photographs. One can use the software to change horses into zebras and paintings into photographs. McAfee used the software to misdirect the Facial recognition algorithm. The team used 1500 photos of two members and fed them into CycleGAN which morphed them into one another and kept feeding the resulting images into different facial recognition algorithms to check who it recognized. After generating hundreds of such images, CycleGAN eventually generated a fake image which looked like person ‘A’ to the naked eye but managed to trick the FRT into thinking that it was person ‘B’. Owing to the dissatisfactory results, researchers expressed their concern about the inefficiency of FRTs. In fact mere eye-makeup can fool the FRT into allowing a person on a no-flight list to board the flight. This trend of inefficiency in the technology was noticed worldwide.

Secondly, facial recognition systems use machine learning technology. It is concerning and uncomfortable to note that FRT has often reflected the biases deployed in the society. Consequently, leading to several facial mismatches. A study by MIT shows that FRT routinely misidentifies people of color, women and young people. While the error rate was 8.1% for men, it was 20.6% for women. The error for women of color was 34%. The error values in the “supervised study” in a laboratory setting for a sample population is itself simply unacceptable. In the abovementioned American Civil Liberties Union study, the false matches were disproportionately African American and people of color. In India, 55% of prisoners undertrial are either Dalits, Adivasis, or Muslims although the combined population of all three just amounts to 39% of the total population (2011 census). If AFRS is trained on these records, it would definitely deploy the same socially held prejudices against the minority communities. Therefore, displaying inaccurate matches. The tender issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs had no indication of eliminating these biases nor did it have any mention of human-verifiable results. Using a system embedded with societal bias to replace biased human judgement defeats claims of technological neutrality. Deploying FRT systems in law enforcement will be ineffective at best and disastrous at worst.

Thirdly, the concerns of invasion of privacy and mass surveillance hasn’t been addressed satisfactorily. Facial Recognition makes data protection almost impossible as publicly available information is collected but they are analyzed to a point of intimacy. India does not have a well established data protection law given that “Personal data Protection Bill” is yet to be enforced. Implementing AFRS in the absence of a safeguard is a potential threat to our personal data. Moreover, police and other law enforcement agencies will have a great degree of discretion over our data which can lead to a mission creep. To add on to the list of privacy concerns, the bidder of AFRS will be largely responsible for maintaining confidentiality and integrity of data which will be stored apart from the established ISO standard. Additionally, the tender has no preference to “Make in India'' and shows absolutely no objections to foreign bidders and even to those having their headquarters in China, the hub of data breach .The is no governing system or legal limitations and restrictions to the technology. There is no legal standard set to ensure proportional use and protection to those who non-consensually interact with the system. Furthermore, the tender does not mention the definition of a “criminal”. Is a person considered a criminal when a charge sheet is filed against them? Or is it when the person is arrested? Or is it an individual convicted by the Court? Or is it any person who is a suspect? Since the word “criminal” isn’t definitely defined in the tender, the law enforcement agencies will ultimately be able to track a larger number of people than required.

The notion that AFRS will lead to greater efficacy must be critically questioned. San Francisco imposed a total ban on police use of facial recognition in May, 2019. Police departments in London are pressurized to put a stop to the use of FRT after several instances of discrimination and inefficiency. It would do well to India to learn from the mistakes of other countries rather than committing the same.

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March 7, 2021 10:10 AM

Bengal Elections: Will there be a transfer of power or TMC’s will rule continue?

As the assembly elections in West Bengal are getting closer, the competition between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) is getting more intense. This election and its result will  be historic. Whole nation is looking forward to the Bengal Elections keenly.

Recently, there was a lot of hue and cry by the BJP when some people allegedly tried to attack the BJP party president JP Nadda's convoy near Diamond harbour in West Bengal. While the BJP labelled the attack as a “sponsored violence”, CM Mamata Banerjee called it a “drama” staged by the BJP to gain media attention. But apart from all this, there are other things which make this election important.

Other than the BJP and the ruling TMC, there are other players as well – Left Front, led by CPI(M), Congress Party, AIMIM.

The situation of the Left Front and the Congress

Rally of Congress and Left Alliance | Source: IBTimes

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Left Front did not win a single parliamentary seat. Also, except the Jadavpur constituency, it lost all its deposits in all the seats. The Indian National Congress, which is its alliance partner, did not fare well as well and managed to get two seats only. In the upcoming 2021 assembly elections, the two parties have again joined hands, and this time, it’s not just about the electoral victory, but also about maintaining their relevance in the state.

The Left Front, which used to be a major party in the state and ruled for decades, is now seeing an existential crisis. Their first aim is to retain themselves as the main opposition party of West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee’s thumping victory in the 2011 elections marked the end of the Left rule in West Bengal. In the 2016 Assembly Elections, Trinamool Congress had a landslide victory, whereas the BJP got only two seats. But now, the BJP is emerging as the main opposition to TMC, which should be a matter of concern for the Left Front which is losing ground. In an article by The Quint, CPI(M) leader Shatarup Ghosh said, “Of course the BJP is our main opposition—not just in West Bengal but also nationally. They are ideologically and politically completely opposed to us. But that being said, we are not ready to give an inch to Mamata Banerjee either. The TMC needs to go, but they can’t be replaced by the BJP. That is our position”. The Left also alleges that TMC violence against them increased especially after 2016. “At this point, because we couldn’t function in full strength, there was a void in the space of the opposition. The BJP came in at that point and said that they’re running the centre, have CBI, ED and other machinery and can help fight the TMC in a way that the Left can’t. Those who wanted to vote against TMC, therefore, naturally went to them”, he adds.

The Indian National Congress has ruled West Bengal first from 1947–62, and then again from 1972–77. After that, Congress has not performed well in the elections here.

Rise of AIMIM in West Bengal

Asaduddin Owaisi, the face of AIMIM | Source: Wikimedia

All India Majlis-e-Ittehad Ul Muslimeen– better known as AIMIM, has seen a rise recently outside their home state, after winning 5 seats in the Bihar elections. Party President Asaduddin Owaisi held a meeting with AIMIM West Bengal party functionaries for taking their views with regards to the upcoming elections and political situation in the state, calling it a “fruitful” meeting.

On AIMIM focusing on Bengal Elections, TMC MP Saugata Roy took a jibe at the party’s chief and called him “an assistant of the BJP, who is being used by the latter to split non-BJP votes”.

A Muslim voter in Bengal | Source: Wikimedia

Muslim votes are crucial for the TMC. AIMIM senior leader Syed Asim Waqar tweeted, telling Mamata Banerjee’s party that their enemy is the same, the BJP. Aurangabad MP and AIMIM Maharashtra President Imtiaz Jaleel tweeted: "Bihar tou jhaaki hai...WB, UP baaki hai" (Bihar is just the beginning, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are remaining). Other than this, party chief Owaisi recently said that it has been the consistent stand of the party that it would not contest elections in Assam and Kerala, as AIUDF and the Indian Union Muslim League are present in the two states. These points clearly show which states the party is aiming for.

AIMIM rallies had also gathered large crowds in Bihar. It won 5 seats in the Seemanchal region of Bihar, which borders West Bengal. It is also trying to emerge as the voice of the Muslims in states like West Bengal and UP. AIMIM was part of the Grand Secular Democratic Front, that had two UP based parties—Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) and the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP)—besides Samajwadi Janta Dal and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP). Owaisi's party was the best performer among all of them, other than that only BSP managed to get one seat.

Muslims in West Bengal

Muslims form about 27% of the West Bengal state population, but still remain underrepresented. They account for only 6% of government jobs. Although their representation has been better under the TMC, they still need improvement in the representation for the betterment of their community.


CM Mamata Banerjee (L) and PM Narendra Modi (R) meeting | Source: Wikimedia

Recently, TMC MLA Suvendu Adhikari—along with 23 others—joined BJP, at Home Minister Amit Shah's Midnapore rally, as a major blow to Mamata Banerjee and the TMC. Shah alleged that Mamata Banerjee has changed her party’s slogan from “Maa, Maati, Manush” (Mother, Earth, Humanity) to “extortion, corruption and pandering to the nephew”, targeting Banerjee’s nephew and MP Abhishek Banerjee.

The BJP increased its seats from 2 to 18 in West Bengal in the 2019, which came as a surprise. Almost 57% of Hindu votes went to the BJP, and 32% to TMC. The party is trying to woo Hindus and also the Hindi-speaking population of West Bengal. Recently, BJP-supported Hindutva organisations such as the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the RSS, which had only a little presence in the state, have become more assertive, as was seen through their armed processions for Ram Navami.

Suvendu Adhikari, TMC leader who recently joined BJP | Source: মঞ্জুর আলম খান via Wikimedia

To keep a check on the saffron party’s rise, the Mamata government made sure to announce new schemes and that the previously implemented policies remain fresh in the minds of the people. Recently, the TMC released its 'report card' on the work they have done and the promises kept. They have mentioned the 'Sabujsathi' scheme in it, which, according to the Mamata government, has been fulfilled. In this scheme, bicycles were to be distributed among approximately 40 lakh students from classes 9th to 12th studying in govt run and govt aided schools in West Bengal. The scheme was launched in September 2015. A scheme called “Swasth Saathi” was launched recently by the West Bengal government, as the BJP attacked the government by saying it did not implement the Ayushman Bharat scheme of the central government.

Even after opposition from newly emerging parties in the state, like the BJP and AIMIM, other than that from the already existing parties, the Left Front and the Congress, the TMC is trying to remain optimistic about their third term. Who’s winning? Only time—and the people of West Bengal—will tell.

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