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Interview: Telangana could soon use facial recognition authentication for ration distribution, says state’s IT secy Jayesh Ranjan

Facial recognition technology (FRT) could soon be used in the distribution of ration in Telangana. Ration shops make a great case for the use of FRT during the pandemic, said Jayesh Ranjan, the state's IT and Industries secretary, in an interview to MediaNama. He told us that facial recognition tech could replace prevalent biometric authentication systems, which uses fingerprints, with a touch-less one. Ranjan also addressed criticism around the state's use of facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and more. On a question about the need to collect citizens' consent before collecting their data, Ranjan said it wasn't necessary since "consent is implicit" in government work. Ranjan also tried to defend Samagra Vedika, which Ranjan claimed was an algorithm to obtain information from several databases, rather than being one master database itself. Samagra Vedika has the power to query from more than 30 department databases (like the treasury, tax, GST, RTA and more) to create a "360 degree view" of virtually any citizen.  "No one has merged them together to create any kind of meta database," Ranjan told us. He also assured us that Samagra Vedika was accessible only to employees of his department, and that there were "checks and balances" that govern this access. We also talked about the paradox of the state government using a cutting-edge AI tool to predict Covid-19 hotspots, while simultaneously refusing to make more simple, people-facing apps such as a real-time dashboard to monitor vacancies of beds in hospitals (although a dashboard was announced in July, there has been no word…

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