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Hyderabad police on a spree of randomly asking fingerprints and facial data

“The police just stopped me and took a snap [of me], I asked for the reason twice and they replied, simply like that,” K Prudhvi Raj, a corporate employee living in Hyderabad’s Attapur, told MediaNama. Raj was returning home from his night shift, and at 2:30 am on November 5, the police near his house in Mekalmandi took a picture of him and his vehicle without providing any reason. He told MediaNama that since the police’s response was “improper” he decided to tweet about the incident. “I also need an explanation on what basis these activities are done with a common man. Is this announced in public before the department does it?” he asked in his tweet.

“Hopefully the data in their records will not be misutilised,” he said. Raj is not the only person whose picture has been taken by police in Hyderabad. Police in the city have been asking for the facial data and fingerprints of people who they think might be potential criminals. They are projecting this as a legitimate way to curb crime. We previously reported on one such instance from Falaknuma police station, and were told that “the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) even gives us [the police] the right to kill. Fingerprint is not that big an issue”.

Since then, people have reported of this practise by the police in at least 6 different police station jurisdictions of Hyderabad. Reported instances have been from Falaknuma, Bhavaninagar, Chilkalguda, Banjara Hills, Asif Nagar and Chatrinaka police stations. But, there could be more.

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When contacted, S Kalmeshwar, DCP, North Zone, Hyderabad Police, said that the matter was confidential and declined any further comment. Ironically, the police itself gives out information of its escapades to ask people for their biometric data, on Twitter and Facebook. On May 4, the SHO of Chilakalguda, which falls under the North Zone, had tweeted “Checked FRS (facial recognition scan) and C-Dot by Patro[l] car II of PS Chilkalguda”. Please note that the tweet was removed on November 6, after a few civil society members took note of it. What was the police trying to cover?

SHO Chilkalguda’s tweet which was deleted

SHO of Chilkalguda police station, Balagangi Reddy, told us that there is no facility to save biometric data of people in the police station. Shiva Maruti, ACP of Asif Nagar police station said that the police collects fingerprints and facial data of “suspects” only for comparing it with the data already present in its database. SHO of Bhavaninagar and Chatrinaka declined to comment.

Mohammed Abdul Rasheed, ACP of Falaknuma police station, had previously told us that this was the only way for the police to nab potential criminals. “How would you catch a criminal? A suspect, a criminal, is roaming around at 2 am in the night. Normal people don’t roam around at that time,” Rasheed had said. Also, according to him, asking for someone’s fingerprints is just like asking for their name.

The police have also found it difficult to explain the legality in asking for people’s fingerprints and facial data without a warrant, raising concerns that the police might be making a mockery of the law. “To put it bluntly, what we are witnessing is militarisation of police, where they can’t be questioned about their policing practices…there is no law which allows police to collect people’s biometrics without cause, if they have been arrested then CrPc and Evidence act has provisions,” said Srinivas Kodali, an independent researcher.

Police in Telangana have access to the TSCOP app which includes fingerprint and facial data of several criminals. The app was launched in January 2018, and a facial recognition system was added to it in August 2018. Syed Rafeeq, Additional DCP, South Zone, Hyderabad, had told us that the police, based on intuition, approaches mostly young people to verify if they are “suspects” or not by providing their fingerprints and facial data to the police. We have learned that this practice is generally carried out in the Central Zone, Old Hyderbad city, and in other localities where low-income earners reside.

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