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Amit Shah: Facial recognition software fed with government data used to identify over 1,100 rioters

Credit: PIB

Home Minister Amit Shah, while speaking in Lok Sabha earlier today, revealed that the government is using a facial recognition software to identify perpetrators of riots that broke out in Delhi last month.

“The people of Delhi have sent the Delhi Police photos and footage of the riots in the thousands”, Shah said. This footage has been compared with data from existing data held by the government. Voter ID data, driving license data and “other government data” was fed into the software, which has helped identify over 1,100 people, out of which more than 300 people came from the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, Shah revealed.

Note that some publications had reported, quoting Shah, that Aadhaar data was also being used for facial recognition. We checked the video of the speech in the Lok Sabha and its transcript, and Shah did not explicitly mention Aadhaar.

While Shah did not specify which databases this information was being drawn from, it’s possible that it could have been via NATGRID — a national intelligence grid — which aims to link multiple public and private databases together, and make it available to intelligence agencies.

Amit Shah’s comments in Lok Sabha, with translation

“I’m happy to tell you that the people of Delhi from either side have sent footage of the riots to the Delhi Police. I hope that the mystery around [IB official] Ankit Sharma’s murder will be uncovered using a video sent by a citizen. I’m saying this because people are asking what have we [the government] done. We have started identifying all these faces using a face identification software. Mr Owaisi only talked about one community and said that the innocent should not be punished. This is a software, it doesn’t see religion, or clothes [of people]. It only catches people on the basis of their faces and actions.
We have fed data from voter IDs, driving licenses and other government data into that software and have identified over 1,100 people. I want to tell you that more than 300 people came from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi to partake in the riots. We got facial data from Uttar Pradesh, and that made it clear that these riots were a deep conspiracy.” — Amit Shah in Lok Sabha

India is also developing a national level face recognition tool

India is deploying facial recognition systems even though the technology’s biases and accuracy has often been called into question. Although a handful of cities in the US have banned the use of the technology, India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is looking to develop a national level Automated Facial Recognition System, which is expected to be the foundation for “a national level searchable platform of facial images”. The database for the system would be created by using passports, data from the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), and the Interoperable Criminal Justice System, among other things.

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