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Central Railways to install facial recognition attendance systems at its premises

facial recognition

You are reading it here first: The Indian Railways’ central division is looking to install facial recognition-based biometric attendance systems at some of its premises. The systems will be installed at some locomotive facilities of the Central Railway in Parel. Aside from ascertaining people’s identity via facial recognition, the tool will also have to generate multi-user attendance reports. This is in line with an increasing trend among Indian government bodies: from organisations that track crime statistics such as the NCRB to an education board like the CBSE, every institution is deploying facial recognition systems — all while India lacks a data protection law.

The Central Railways has floated a tender for the tool with an advertised value of ₹7,18,030, and it is looking to procure 25 such systems. The last date of submitting bids is October 29. Bidders have to submit an earnest money deposit of ₹14,400.

Parivesh Sahu, deputy chief mechanical engineer at Central Railways, and the official who issued the tender, told MediaNama that the facial recognition systems will be installed at the Central Railway loco workshop in Parel. The tender has been set in such a way that it allows smaller Indian companies to also participate, Sahu told us — since the value of the tender is less than ₹50 lakh, there are no minimum technical and financial eligibility criteria to participate in the bid.

The Indian Railways is becoming a steady adopter of surveillance tools such as facial recognition tools and drones. It is currently in the process of installing Video Surveillance Systems (VSS), equipped with a facial recognition system, in 983 railway stations across the country. Biometric-based token machines were active at seven railway stations, including Lucknow Junction, Ahmedabad, Mumbai Central and Bandra Terminus, as of February 2020. It recently procured nine surveillance drones at an expenditure of over ₹31 lakh, with the claim to strengthen security.

System should be encrypted, will be accessible by authorised users

The database of facial recognition system will be based on a local server, and the system should be able to identify a face in less than two seconds. It should be capable of storing a minimum of 500 images, and carry out a minimum of 100,000 attendance logs. The document said that the attendance data should be encrypted, and follow 128 bit encryption. Only an admin and a nominated user can access the software for data entry and generation of reports, per the tender document.

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The camera should have a resolution of at least 4 megapixels. It is unclear whether the system will follow the 1:1 identification protocol — that is match a face against the same face, or the 1:n recognition protocol — where a face is identified against an entire database. We have emailed the Central Railways’ IT department our queries and will update the article when we hear from them.

Report Generation: The software should able to provide various reports, such as attendance reports, present & absent reports, late comers reports, early goers Reports, and on-duty reports. These reports may be maintained employee-wise, date-wise, department-wise, reason-wise, or analysis-wise.

Everyone’s deploying a facial recognition tool

From the Indian government itself to several state governments and police department, the use of facial recognition technology is proliferating across the country. Recently, CBSE rolled out a facial recognition system — sans a privacy policy — for students to download their academic institutions. The National Crime Records Bureau is currently working towards building a national level facial recognition system, and only very recently revealed that it wants to test the system on mask-wearing faces, and for it to generate “comprehensive biometric reports”.

Several airports have added facial recognition systems as an additional way to board flights. Local police departments are purchasing, or piloting facial recognition algorithms — for instance, the Vadodara city police piloted Clearview AI’s controversial facial recognition system. States like Telangana have piloted the tech in civic elections, and are mulling introducing the tool for obtaining ration at fair price shops.

It is worth noting that Indian agencies are installing facial recognition surveillance tools 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 suggests that government institutions like the NCRB, or the Railways could potentially be able to collect, store and process biometric data of Indians without necessarily adhering to provisions of the Bill.

More from our facial recognition coverage:

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