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‘Every inch of Telangana will be under surveillance,’ says state government

Telangana Police’s command and control centre building, at Banjara Hills in Hyderabad, will be ready in six months, and will be able to process footage from 100,000 CCTV cameras in under a minute, the state government said in a tweet on February 14. The tweet, originally, in the Telugu language, claimed that “if you go out for work, 50 cameras will be able to spot you by the time you are back,” and that “every inch of the state will be under police radar”. “If a crime happens anywhere, there will be information immediately,” it added. Independent researcher Srinivas Kodali helped MediaNama with the translation of the tweet.

The command centre will reportedly have four towers, a data centre and command control centre with a total built-up area of 6.2 lakh square feet at an estimated cost of Rs 350 crore, however, its operationalisation has been delayed, as construction of the facility was initially expected to be complete by December 2019.

“Telangana has banned protests in the very first year it was formed because of protests part of [the] Telangana movement. CCTVs everywhere are to ensure [that] no one dares to come out on the street and give away complete control of public spaces to cops. They want to control every corner of the state, this is a draconian form of governance,” Kodali told MediaNama. Calling it an “utter disregard for the rule of law,” he added that Telangana’s surveillance tactics can serve as a blueprint for other state governments, and even the central government. “Anything that happens in Telangana as the largest growth state in India is taken as a good governance model and is replicated. In fact all the surveillance systems in Telangana are pilots under MHA [Home Ministry] to be implemented everywhere in India,” he said.

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It is worth mentioning that the Telangana government’s plans of surveilling “every inch of the state” come when India doesn’t have a data protection law. Moreover, the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which is currently being deliberated upon by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, has carved out exemptions for government agencies to adhere to provisions of the Bill. 

This development comes after we reported that police in Telangana have been randomly asking for fingerprints and facial data of “suspects” to match against their database on criminals. We had found that this demand for people’s biometric data is often done without an executive order, and without people’s explicit consent. A senior police official from Telangana had earlier told us that the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) gives police the right the kill, and asking for fingerprints and facial data from people is not a big deal.

Also, last month, Telangana used facial recognition systems to verify voters during the state’s civic elections. Telangana’s election commission claimed that “authenticating voters by using technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and deep learning, that leave behind a digital trail, can help in reducing impersonation cases significantly”. However, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), had urged the state’s election commissioner to withdraw the use of such systems, since their deployment doesn’t have any statutory basis and serves no legitimate state aim, to no avail. 

***Updated at 12:27 pm on February 17 with inputs from Srinivas Kodali. An earlier version of the post has been archived here.

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