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Facial recognition will not be integrated with Aadhaar: Indian Government in Parliament

India has been witnessing a trend in the deployment of facial recognition technology for several purposes such as surveillance and more recently, in a vaccine registration pilot. 

Facial recognition technology (FRT) will not be integrated with Aadhaar, but the technology will be used as one of the authentication procedures with ‘informed consent of the individual’, informed Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar in response to a question asked in Parliament.

“UIDAI is only developing the Aadhaar based Face Authentication as which is currently in Proof of Concept (PoC) phase,” Chandrasekhar said in response to a question by Abhishek Banerjee, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and a Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha MP from Diamond Harbour constituency. “Face authentication may be used as one of the authentication mechanisms apart from biometric and iris-based authentication procedures with the informed consent of the individual,” Chandrasekhar added.

Why it matters? There has been a spurt in the Indian government’s and various state governments’ use of facial recognition. While many such applications of facial recognition are for management purposes such as recording attendances, the use of this technology for surveillance purposes by the police is also prevalent. Several police outfits such as the Kolkata Police use this technology for surveillance purposes and crime detection. However, its uses have been debated since the Right to Privacy was declared a fundamental right in the country, and the nation still does not have a data protection law.

Chandrasekhar touched on the privacy aspect in his response to Banerjee’s question without really giving a pointed response. To Banerjee’s query on whether the Indian government has studied and taken into consideration employing FRT in the public and private sector, Chandrasekhar said this:

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Facial recognition systems can be used to identify people in photos, videos, or in real-time. Right to Privacy is an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. Any solutions employing Facial Recognition Technology should address the privacy concerns — Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State in MeitY

Government working on Aadhar-based FRT for Covid-19 vaccines: RS Sharma

Back in April, National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma had announced that the Indian government was piloting an Aadhaar-based facial recognition system for Covid-19 vaccinations. The pilot was being carried out in Jharkhand which, Sharma said, was reporting over 1,000 successful authentications via facial recognition on a daily basis.

Sharma had said that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) deployed “the best facial recognition algorithms which we will be utilising now.” The move will make the vaccination process “touchless”, he said. Individuals currently have the option of authenticating their biometrics, either using their fingers or iris.

Full question and answer

Will the Minister of ELECTRONICS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

(a) whether the Government has studied and taken into consideration the privacy concerns of employing the Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) by the public and private sector;
(b) if so, the details and the outcome thereof and if not, the reasons therefor;
(c) the Central Government agencies which are currently employing or proposes to employ the said FRT technology; and;
(d) whether the Government proposes to implement a system integrating Aadhaar with the FRT and if so, the details thereof?

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ANSWER

(a) and (b): Facial recognition is a way of identifying or confirming an individual’s identity using their face. Facial recognition systems can be used to identify people in photos, videos, or in real-time. Right to Privacy is an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. Any solutions employing Facial Recognition Technology should address the privacy concerns.

(c): Facial Recognition Technology is distinct from the Face Authentication mechanisms that utilise one-to-one face matching for authentication after obtaining consent of the individual. Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is using one-to-one face matching for providing digital marksheets to students through a consent-based framework.

(d): No, Sir. UIDAI is only developing the Aadhaar based Face Authentication as which is currently in Proof of Concept (PoC) phase. Face authentication may be used as one of the authentication mechanisms apart from biometric and iris-based authentication procedures with
the informed consent of the individual.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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