India is all set to adopt the biggest Automated Facial Recognition Technology in the world, here’s everything that you need to know about the technology that is said to change the face of the Indian enforcement agencies forever.

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The implementation of facial recognition system is expected to bring ‘sea change’ in the internal security framework of India

Last year, the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) opened up bids for private companies for the development of National Automated Facial Recognition System (NAFRS). The system is currently under development, and it is expected to allow law enforcement agencies to keep track of the criminals and those threats to public order through the existing database of images. NCRB claims that the implementation of the NAFRS is for “modernising the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification.”

Today, the world is witnessing rapid technological advancements in the digital world. Out of a number of such developments, facial recognition technology is leading the industry. Before we move on to understand the use of technology in security and surveillance, we must first understand what technology is, to begin with.

What is facial recognition technology? 

It is the technology that helps in recognition and identification of people using footages, images and sketches from the existing database. To reduce inaccuracies, the facial recognition software such as the NAFRS—analyses the pictures of the people from different angles. To put it in simple words, we use the technology to unlock new-gen smartphones. Moreover, several apps use the technology for various entertainment purposes.

How is technology being used for surveillance? 

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Governments across the world are heavily relying on facial recognition technology for enhancing law and order in their respective territories
  1. Use by states for surveillance

At present, a number of countries have adopted the facial recognition technology for surveillance. China has emerged as the global leader when it comes to rapid deployment of the technology through its 170 million CCTVs. In China, authorities are using the technology across different platforms such as railway station to catch the criminals. This has also resulted in making the police go autonomous as the offenders in public spaces through the technology have to face public ‘name and shame’ by displaying their faces and names on LED billboards.

Some nations have also adopted new technologies to secure their international borders and to stop infiltration. At the airports, the facial recognition system helps the authorities to clear the entry of the people travelling to the country and alerting the security personnel in some cases. Apart from China, the US and Japan have also implemented advanced systems based on said technologies.

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Several apps, private firms and corporates are employing the new technology in their operations
  1. Non-state uses 

Today, there are a number of schools that are using facial recognition technology at equal interval of time to analyse the behaviour and emotional state of the students. It helps the school authorities to understand the mental health of the students. Some of the leading companies, such as McDonald’s, are using the system to track employee behaviour in some parts of the world. Retail chains are using facial recognition to prevent shoplifting.

Moreover, several beauty brands are offering their costumers to try makeup virtually on their custom blend apps. Several industries with large carpet areas are using face recognition technology for various purposes including safety, security and payments. Recently, Chevron made it public that it is developing a system that can trace out fatigue amongst the truck drivers.

How can facial recognition technology help government authorities in India? 

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NCRB claims that implementation of the facial recognition technology will modernise the surveillance system in India

With over 130 billion people and ever-growing population, it becomes challenging on the part of the authorities to provide better security to its citizens because of the lack of resources. In India, there are about 144 police officials for every 100,000 people in the country. This makes it literally impossible on the part of the authorities to conduct intense surveillance.

Consequently, facial recognition technology is expected to provide a robust system that can provide holistic solutions to a number of organisational inefficiencies. The system will not only identify criminals but will also help in the identification of missing people, untraced people and dead bodies. Several experts believe that the implementation of NAFRS will lead to an overall decline in the crime rate. If implemented correctly, it can prove to be a great investigator as well as a good deterrent.

What is the National Automated Facial Recognition System (NAFRS)?

As per the request proposal of the NCRB to procure NAFRS, the advance facial recognition technology is expected to help in the “automatic identification and verification of persons from digital images, photos, digital sketches, video frames and video sources by comparison of selected facial features of the image from an already existing image database”.

The facial recognition system has the ability to fast and accurately detect multiple-matching face from a single frame from a live video stream recorded by CCTV. The system will also use eye-zone extraction alongside. It has advanced facial recognition algorithms that the system recognises regardless of facial changes such as beard, expression and glasses while keeping the processing time very short.

It is expected to employ logical algorithms while being user-friendly. The best thing about the system is that it can quickly adapt to existing IT systems and will be made available on different platforms such as Android, Windows, iOS, etc. for making NAFRS user-friendly for the enforcement agency officers.

Complexities related to Facial Recognition Technology

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Privacy advocates have been criticising the implementation of the system in India on various grounds

In the famous Aadhaar case, the Supreme Court of India in the landmark judgement identified individual privacy under the ambit of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The technology faces severe criticism from privacy advocates on the grounds of it violating fundamental rights which are usually substantiated on the grounds of supposed benefits as against the violation of fundamental rights.

As there is an absence of data protection laws, the privacy rights advocate the fear that it could result in social policing and control. Although, it is essential to understand that the apex court nowhere in the judgement ruled out the exclusion of the facial recognition technology.

Apart from privacy concern, several researchers have identified inaccuracies in the facial recognition system in the identification of some categories such as transgender people and dark-skinned women, amongst others. Human rights activists believe that it could result in the abuse and discrimination against the minorities.

What advocates of the technology in India claim?

With over 1.3 billion people, India is one of the most under policed countries across the world. As per the United Nations, there are only about 144 police officers for every 100,000 citizens. The facial recognition system was first launched in India on the premises of some of the Indian airports including the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, as a trial earlier in 2019. Within a few days of implementation, Delhi police claimed that it was able to identify over 3,000 missing children in just days during a trial.

Limited economic and human resources have remained one of the biggest hindrances in the modernisation of enforcement agencies in India. Tech-based solutions have proved to be very efficient in such conditions. NCRB believes that the implementation of the facial recognition system will bring a “sea change” in the way enforcement agencies in 28 states and 9 Union Territories perform.

In 2018, the facial recognition technology market was valued at $4.5 billion. At present, the technology is growing at a CAGR of 12.5 per cent and is expected to touch $9 billion by 2024. Today, the technology is intensively being used by privateers but also the states and governments across the world. Although there are cons and pros of almost everything on this planet while implementing NAFRS, which is said to be the world’s most significant facial recognition system, the government must give extra care and attention. It must ensure that the technology fetches the right results while keeping a check that it doesn’t invade privacy –the fundamental right enshrined to all the people living in India under Article 21.