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6 domestic airports under trial for Facial Recognition Technology: Civil Aviation Ministry in Parliament

Credit: Intel blog

India is witnessing a trend in the deployment of facial recognition technology in public spaces despite research showing that the technology is biased and inaccurate.  

Systems equipped with facial recognition technology are currently being implemented at six airports in India – Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune, Varanasi, and Vijayawada, Minister of State for Civil Aviation General Vijay Kumar Singh said in response to a parliamentary question by BJP Lok Sabha MPs Manoj Kotak and Raksha Khadse. 

Singh said, “The project is currently at the trial stage and will be implemented across other airports in a phased manner upon successful completion.” He also added that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) will invest around ₹25,000 crores in the next 4 to 5 years for the expansion and development of existing and new terminals, using modern technology. 

Why it matters? Lately, the government has been pushing to implement facial recognition technology at various locations including examination centres and railway stations. It is important to note that these programmes are being implemented when India does not legislation in place to regulate the usage of personal data. The Personal Data Protection Bill, which might be introduced in the Winter Session of Parliament, grants exemptions to government agencies. Besides, FRT has been criticised for being inaccurate when used on people of colour. 

Facial Recognition Technology at Railway Stations

Earlier, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw had revealed that out of 983 railway stations, FRT work had been completed at only 310 stations. These railway stations were selected four years ago to be brought under facial recognition-equipped CCTV surveillance. 

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  • The project is making use of four types of HD cameras: dome type for indoor areas, bullet type for platforms, pan tilt zoom type for parking areas, and ultra HD-4k cameras for crucial locations. 
  • The data collected will be stored for 30 days for playback, analysis, and investigation purposes. The minister also added that “important videos” can be stored for longer; however, no details were provided about what constitutes important videos.

The South Western Railway had also claimed that these systems had “succeeded” in demonstrating “100% acquisition of faces” and “100% matching accuracy” when the project was launched on a pilot basis in Bengaluru.  

FRT inaccurate in detecting people of colour: Study

Despite claims that FRT systems have a 100% success rate in identifying people, a study conducted by tech policy researchers audited four FRT tools (Amazon’s Rekognition, Microsoft Azure’s Face, Face++ and FaceX) and found the following:

  • The facial recognition tools failed to identify far more Indian women than Indian men.
  • Out of 32,000 faces that were a part of the study’s database, over 2,000 Indian women were misidentified.
  • The error rate was highest in the case of Microsoft which was unable to detect a little over 1,000 Indian faces.
  • FaceX, which is produced by a Bengaluru-based company, misidentified the gender of Indian women 11% of the time and 1.35% of the time in the case of men. It also failed to detect over 800 Indian faces.

Full text of question and answer: 

Question: 

(a) whether the Government has proposed new hi-tech improvement in civil aviation sector in the country and if so, the details thereof; and

(b) whether the Government has taken any steps in this regard especially in the State of Maharashtra and if so, the details thereof?

Answer:

(a) and (b) Yes, Sir. The Government has and will continue to undertake hi-tech measures for improvement in civil aviation sector in the country, some of which are as follows:

  1. The policy on Digi Yatra has been released by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in August 2018. This initiative aims to provide a contactless, seamless and paperless handling of passengers at airports from the entry gate of the terminal to the boarding point. Work has been awarded for implementation of Biometric Boarding System (BBS) by using facial recognition technology at six airports namely – Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune, Varanasi and Vijayawada. The project is at the trial stage. Upon successful completion, the same will be implemented across other airports in the country in a phased manner.;
  2. Airports Authority of India (AAI) plans to invest around Rs. 25,000 crores in next 4-5 years for expansion/ development of existing and new terminals, using modern technology.

iii. Modernisation of air navigation infrastructure has been taken up.

  1. Route rationalization in the Indian airspace is being carried out in coordination with Indian Air Force, using modern air traffic flow management techniques to develop shorter flight routes and lower fuel consumption by airlines.
  2. Greater use of digital technology is being encouraged at air cargo terminals to enhance efficiency and to reduce dwell times.
  3. eGovernance is being enabled at Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) for most of their stakeholder interactions and internal processes.;;

vii. Online ”examination on-demand” is being planned by DGCA for flying cadets to enhance the number of licenced pilots in the country.

The technology initiatives undertaken by the Government are spread across all states, including Maharashtra. Pune Airport is one of six airports shortlisted across the country for conducting trials for implementation of the Biometric Boarding System (BBS) using facial recognition technology.

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