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Defence Ministry looking to install facial recognition-based attendance at its PSUs

Image representing facial recogntition

In the backdrop of the devastating second wave of Covid-19 in the country, the Ministry of Defence is pushing facial recognition-based attendance system in its various departments and public sector undertakings.

As many as three tenders reviewed by the MediaNama, all dated from earlier this week show that the Ministry is mooting introducing the technology to the Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers Limited (GRSE), a shipyard in Kolkata which builds and repairs commercial and naval vessels; to Metal and Steel Factory (under Indian Ordnance Factories) in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal and for the Indian Army in Assam.

1. The tender floated by the Indian Ordnance Factories for Metal and Steel Factory listed that they need “Face Recognition Biometric Attendance System For Covid” system installed for a price of Rs 4 lakh. They have listed out the various specifications that they require an facial recognition system (FRS) which include detecting masks and so on. Following are a few of their requirements –

  • Motion-based liveness detection method
  • Partial face occlusion recognition
  • Mask detection feature
  • Face anti-spoofing
  • Face recognition in a dark environment

For the facial recognition system to work, the Indian Ordnance Factories is looking for a Linux-based operating system which can identify faces within 0.2 second to 1 second. The system should be able to identify beards and various hairstyles of workers and the entire system should be integrated to an administrator’s smartphone. It has asked bidders to supply, install, test and train operators apart from providing any necessary statutory clearances.

2. Similarly, the Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers Limited (GRSE) which falls under the Department of Defence Production in the ministry and where around 5,500 workers are employed, have a set aside a budget of Rs 2.96 lakh for the same. Following are few of their requirements:

  • Biometric face recognition reader for attendance of 2,000 employees and 3,500 labourers
  • Replacing the existing coupon-selling system at canteens with biometric face recognition at the entrance
  • FRS to be integrated with existing turnstiles and flap barriers for access control
  • Face reader should support face, pin, biometric, proximity and Mifare card

When contacted, an IT employee at the GRSE said, “Earlier we already had touch-based biometric attendance system at GRSE. Now due to Covid-19 we have been asked to take up facial recognition based system.”

The smart and finger print based attendance system were earlier installed at various units of DRSE in Kolkata. “Thereafter GRSE de-activated finger-print checking and utilising only smart card based attendance and access control since March 2020 to contain spread of Covid-19,” the buyer specification document in the tender said.

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GRSE has stressed on and emphasised that the centralised access monitoring software for attendance and access control should be based on open “open source software preferred eg: CentOS, DB: PostGres, Interface: Java“.

The GRSE has ordered 65 units of biometric face recognition readers which can read a worker’s face from 0.5 m to 3 m and that have battery backup of at least 8 hours on a working day. “Device should be able to store upto 10,00,000 transaction logs along with minimum 20,000 picture log,” the tender said.

3. For an Indian Army office in Assam, the Ministry of Defence has listed out a tender for ‘face recognition attendance with temperature and touch-less sanitiser kiosk’. They have requested six units of this technology. Few of their requirements are:

  • Face and mask recognition
  • Stranger detection facility
  • Touch free visitor management system

Covid-19 normalising use of facial tech?

Ever since Covid-19 broke out in the country last year and emphasis was put on maintaining social distancing, touch-based biometric attendance systems have been under the scanner. Telangana government last year introduced the FRS-based attendance system on a pilot basis in the Technical Education Department of Khammam district and at the office of the Karimnagar Municipal Corporation. According to the Economic Times, the government has also introduced Aadhaar-based attendance system across the State. About 20,000 devices in 12,000 institutions were deployed for the same.

Similarly the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation in Andhra Pradesh too introduced FRS recently for recording attendance of 3,600 sanitary workers in the city, the New Indian Express reported. The sanitary inspection takes photographs of each sanitary worker at their respective work sites twice a day, which is marked on the app. Apart from that, as MediaNama reported earlier, Bihar too is looking to deploy FRS and connect it to databases such as CCTNS and other databases as part of the Smart Cities Mission.

What about privacy of a worker?

Although several governments are going ahead with FRS and seemingly normalising its usage, despite their being no legal provision for the same, internet researchers and activists have a uniform question — that of what happens to worker privacy.

“The use of technologies such as facial recognition at workplaces leaves very little privacy rights for the employees, as it is very difficult to give consent freely when the result of not consenting is not getting the job or getting terminated from the job. Also concerning is that this data can be identified back to them, and can have an immediate and direct impact on their life, such as hiring, pay and promotions,” Shweta Mohandas, a policy officer at Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru told MediaNama.

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Srinivas Kodali, an independent security researcher said, “Facial recognition needs you to remove your masks. Doing that is just going to spread Covid-19 and has no functional value. It will actually harm people. They could just stop attendance or record it manually like last year.”

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