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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February 22, 2021 11:14 PM

Iran, Turkey, Qatar Alliance: Will this mark a shift in MENA's Balance of power?

Qatar, Iran and Turkey have been forming an alliance—which impacts several countries—especially in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. The move comes after Israel recently established its diplomatic relations with four Arab league countries, namely, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The article covers how this move can have an impact on the balance of power in the region.

Support for the Palestinian Cause

The three countries are critical of the Israel-Arab ties and support the Palestinian cause. Various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah as well, are shoring up ties with Turkey and other countries in the region that stand against normalization with Israel.

During his speech in the 75th United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan called out on Israel and proclaimed, “The occupation of Palestine is a bleeding wound.”

Since the Gaza attack, which killed 10 Turkish social activists aboard a ship by the Israeli commandos in international waters, the relationship between the two has only soured. After this incident, Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel, downgrading the diplomatic status. Yet in 2016—after a few meetings—the relationship was restored. However, after another attack in Gaza in 2018, Turkey called back its ambassadors again and expelled the Israeli ambassador to Turkey. Since then they do not have full diplomatic status.

Following the attacks Erdogan—the president of Turkey—even called Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu “a terrorist.” The country has been openly supportive of the Palestinian cause, and has also sent aid for humanitarian relief to the Palestinians. Several Hamas leaders have been visiting, taking refuge, and even meeting with Erdogan.

On August 22, 2020, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Erdogan in Istanbul. Jibril Rajoub, secretary of Fatah’s Central Committee, as well arrived in Turkey on September 21, 2020 to meet with Haniyeh and his deputy Saleh al-Arouri and discuss ways to end the internal Palestinian division.

On the same day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas phoned Erdogan and thanked him for his support for the Palestinian cause. The two have shared several calls since—discussing political developments and US pressure on the region to normalize ties with Israel and ways to face such pressure.

Turkey has tried to balance its relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, who happen to be arch rivals. But after the recent growing closeness with two of Saudi Arabia’s rival countries, Iran and Qatar, Turkey might end up straining its relations with Saudi Arabia.

Qatar-Saudi Arabia conflict

This diplomatic conflict is also known as the Second Arab Cold War (the first one being the Iran-Saudi Arabia Cold War). There is an ongoing struggle between the two countries to gain influence in the Gulf. Their relations strained especially after the emergence of Arab Spring. During that time, Qatar became in favour of the revolutionary wave, whereas Saudi Arabia was against it. Both the States are allies of the United States, but have a tussle in their ideologies. Both have avoided direct conflict with each other.

There are other issues between them which leads to further tussle-

1. Qatar broadcasts a news channel, Al Jazeera, which favours the Arab Spring.

2. Qatar has good relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia's rival.

3. Qatar also allegedly supported Muslim Brotherhood in the past. Which it denies.

The Qatar diplomatic crisis became worse in 2017. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations and trade ties with Doha, and imposed a sea, land and air blockade on Qatar, claiming it supported “terrorism” and was too close to Iran. Yemen, the Maldives and Libya's eastern-based government also followed later. Qatar rejected the claims and said there was “no legitimate justification” for the severance of the relations.

How does this new alliance affect the other countries in the region?

The new alliance seems to lead into formations of two alliance groups or blocs in the region, with some countries siding with Iran, Qatar and Turkey and others with the Saudis and their allies. Another point to keep in mind is that Saudi Arabia is supported by the US, while two countries from the former alliance—Turkey and Iran—are supported by Russia. This will lead to further division among the Middle Eastern countries.

President Trump, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, Israeli Prime Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs for the UAE Signing the Abraham Accords | Source: Trump White House Archives

This alliance can also affect the trade among these countries, and can severe the ties of many Middle Eastern countries. The biggest beneficiary is going to be Israel, which doesn’t have good relations with most of the Muslim world, except the ones which established diplomatic ties recently by signing the Abraham Accords.

In North Africa countries like Egypt and Morocco recognise Israel. However, most of the North African countries also supported the Arab Springs, which is against the ideas of Saudi Arabia. The Islamic holy land seriously seems to have less Arab allies when it comes to opposing the Arab Springs.

In fact, there can be impacts on trade and diplomatic ties with other countries outside the Middle East and North African region as well. Countries will have to balance their relations with both these groups.

How does it affect the Balance of power in the region?

In international relations, balance of power refers to the posture and policy of a nation or group of nations protecting itself against another nation or group of nations by matching its power with the power of the other side.

There has been a Cold War situation between Iran and Saudi Arabia as they are very (perhaps most) influential powers in the region. But Saudi Arabia is still more influential as a business as well as a soft power—it has a richer economy, oil exports, and most importantly, being the holy land where every Muslim comes for Hajj pilgrimage—it has Mecca and Medina. It is the land where the Prophet Muhammad first delivered his messages and teachings. Iran may try to compete in the economic part, but isn't equally as challenging in the religious part—although it is an important country for the Shia Muslims.

There have been arms embargo on Iran by the UN for arms race. Russia and China have been eager to supply Iran with advanced jets, tanks and missiles, which is quite alarming for its Gulf Arab neighbours, especially its primary adversaries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

On 14 September 2019, drones were used to attack the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Houthi movement in Yemen claimed responsibility, joining it to events surrounding the Saudi Arabian intervention in the Yemeni Civil War and stating that they used ten drones in the attack from Yemen. Saudi Arabian officials said that many more drones and cruise missiles were used for the attack and these originated from the north and east, and that they were of Iranian manufacture. The United States and Saudi Arabia have stated that Iran was behind the attack while France, Germany, and the United Kingdom jointly stated Iran bears responsibility for it. Iran has denied any involvement. The situation has only exacerbated the Persian Gulf crisis.

By forming this new alliance, supporting the Palestinian cause—with Qatar—even supporting the idea of Arab Springs; the Iran-Turkey-Qatar alliance has a new power with them. What remains to be seen is the other Middle Eastern country’s decision—whether they support this new alliance and the Palestinian cause or go for yet another fragile “peace-building” initiative in the already disturbed region.

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