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UP is being turned into a police state: Asaduddin Owaisi on usage of drones for Lucknow Safe City Project

Owaisi contended that the usage of drones for surveillance is in violation of the Right to Privacy judgement; for this reason, the MP in a letter sent to the DGCA had asked for a ban on drones. 

Taking cognisance of an exclusive report by MediaNama, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) President and Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi criticised the Uttar Pradesh government for its proposal to introduce drones for surveilling rooftops, terraces, and protests as part of the Lucknow Safe City Project.

While addressing a press conference on August 23, Owaisi said, “In the tender which the Uttar Pradesh government has floated, it says that they will surveil protests as well. They say that they will detect “unscrupulous elements”. Who are you to decide who an “unscrupulous element” is? Protests are a part of democracy. The tender also says that they will surveil over citizens’ rooftops and terraces. Why will you do that? Tomorrow you (the government) will probably ask to look into my toilet!”

As part of the Lucknow Safe City project, the UP government is looking to deploy drones in the city with the intention of snooping over terraces and rooftops “and similar hard to reach places with conventional cameras”. These are the other reasons provided by the UP government for the usage of drones—

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  • To provide a high vantage point for quick response during surveillance operations
  • “To act as active deterrent to unscrupulous elements during challenging law and order situations like rallies, rasta roko and similar mob/crowd led activities,” the tender also said.

Owaisi contended that the usage of drones for surveillance measures is unconstitutional and in violation of the Right to Privacy judgement. “If these measures are being brought in for security, then first a data protection law should be brought in. Otherwise my data can be misused; it can be used to curtail my fundamental rights,” he added.

Ban usage of drones for surveillance: Owaisi in letter to DGCA

During the press conference and on Twitter, Owaisi also made a mention of a letter that he had written to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation in 2020 for banning the usage of drones for surveillance and policing purposes.

MediaNama has reviewed a copy of the letter in which Owaisi had registered his objections regarding the then-draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2020. This is what Owaisi had said in his letter to Hillol Biswas, Director, Aircraft Engineering in the DGCA:

  • Inadequate attention has been paid to potential misuse of drones in violating citizens’ privacy in the draft UAS Rules 2020
  • Schedule VI of the Draft Rules says “ensure privacy of individual and his property during operation’. This provision makes the question of individuals’ privacy subject only to the interpretation of the UAS operator, Owaisi said.
  • Draft Rule 35 permits capturing images using UAS by claiming to ensure privacy. “With little oversight, a drone operator may deploy this technology for unlawful and criminal purposes,” he said.
  • Rule 35 of the draft UAS Rules should be amended to incorporate requirement of consent for capturing any imagery. “Furthermore, appropriate time limits should be placed on the period for which personally identifiable data may be collected or stored. No imagery, or data can be used for any other purpose than the purpose for which it was collected.”
  • Law enforcement agencies are using drones to “peak into” one’s house (without any evidence of a crime), he alleged. “When such unbridled power is handed over to law enforcement agencies, the consequence is wide-ranging invasion of a citizens’ constitutionally protected right to privacy,” he said.
  • The Hyderabad MP further said that since there is no prohibition on the usage of drones, law enforcement agencies were deploying it at the cost of citizens Right to Privacy. He referred to the KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India judgement, which held that Right to Privacy is a fundamental right. “There is no invasion of privacy as condemnable as one involving an “unauthorised intrusion into a person’s home”,” he said.

Therefore, it is recommended that deployment of UAS technology be prohibited for law enforcement and surveillance purposes. Such deployment causes irreversible harm to the right to privacy. A person – whether in public or in their home – enjoys a legitimate and reasonable expectation of privacy. By its very nature, such technology permits its user to violate this expectation – by listening in to private conversations, monitoring private gatherings and tracking a person’s lawful movements. No reasonable balance can be struck between law enforcement’s constant and unjustified need to surveil citizens’ and a citizen’s right to privacy, safety and security. — Asaduddin Owaisi letter to DGCA

In the letter, Owaisi also pointed towards the usage of automated facial recognition systems (AFRS) and stressed that such technologies should not be deployed in combination with drones.

it is well known that Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) or other biometric surveillance technologies that claim to identify a person according to their facial contours or their gait or their voice are unreliable and heavily depend on pre-existing databases. These systems have also been reported to reflect biases in terms of race, gender and disability. Therefore, the rules should prohibit any deployment AFRS technology in combination with UAS technology — Asaduddin Owaisi letter to DGCA

Read our four-part series on the Lucknow Safe City Project

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

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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