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Hyderabad Police again conducting facial recognition scans of ‘suspects’ during patrolling

Controversial facial recognition technology has emerged as a pervasive part of policing in Hyderabad.

Akin to the facial recognition scans of citizens by Hyderabad Police in 2019, the city police were recorded doing the same in parts of the city on November 12, a tweet showed.

The Sultan Bazar Police Station in the Old City area of Hyderabad was conducting FRS of “suspects”, as they claimed, but eventually subjecting random citizens to the technology. This comes a day after Amnesty International criticised the usage of facial recognition in Hyderabad and launched a campaign, in collaboration with the Internet Freedom Foundation and Article 19, pushing for a blanket ban on such technology.

While responding to the query of a Twitter user inquiring about the kind of scans two police constables were taking up near Osmania Medical College in Koti, the verified Twitter page of Sultan Bazar police said that it was part of patrolling cops’ official duty and that they were scanning “suspect persons” using a tab.

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It is unclear what criteria is behind the Hyderabad Police deciding whom to scan and subject to facial recognition. As documented earlier, people in Hyderabad have been subjected to such scans and activists have maintained that these technologies are discriminatory towards underprivileged sections of the society. The Hyderabad City Police has a history of introducing tech-related invasive measures that seemingly do not have any legal backing.

We delete data of those who do not throw any matches from system: Police

A Hyderabad City Police official on condition of anonymity confirmed to MediaNama that these facial recognition scans were being conducted by Sultan Bazar PS. He said, “Patrol officers take photos of the suspect using tab and scan that photo against a database available all over India,” the official said. The database that the official refers to is the Central Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS).

“The photos taken are temporary. And if the photo of the “suspect” do not throw any match, then we delete that photo from the system,” he claimed. When asked how the police determines whether someone is a suspect while patrolling and regarding privacy of the citizen, the official did not provide any conclusive answer.

This also goes against the statement provided by Hyderabad City Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar in response to the Ban The Scan campaign initiated by Amnesty International. Kumar, while talking to mediapersons, claimed that facial recognition was just being used for tracking missing persons. “This is nothing but digital matching of missing persons. It should not be confused with facial recognition system. Whoever has quoted is not correct.”

A few earlier instances of FRS being conducted by Hyderabad City Police from 2021:

July 2021:

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March 2021:

GIS-based crime mapping plays a part in choosing spots for these surveillance measures

In a press release dated November 9, Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar said that cops should make use of the crime mapping application for revising patrol routes and so on. He said cops should —

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  • Analyse latest crime occurence timings and organise motorised and foot patrols in crime prone areas.
  • Question and physically frisk strangers in crime hot spot areas while on foot patrol
  • Organise foot patrol within 200 yards of crime hotspots.

It is important to point out that the Police Commissioner says “questioning and physical frisking of strangers”, rather than suspects, indicating that citizens too may be subjected to such measures.

Scans being taken up to build 360 degree profiles of citizens, alleges activist

Criticising the facial recognition drive by Hyderabad City Police, independent security researcher Srinivas Kodali claimed that these scans were part of the police’s aim to build a 360 degree profile of Indians in Hyderabad.

A look at FRT and other tech related developments in Hyderabad

Facial recognition for “suspects”: In 2019, several police stations in Hyderabad took out facial recognition drives. The then ACP of Falaknuma police station Mohammed Abdul Rafeeq had said that cops, based on intuition, approached people they thought might be suspects. These “suspects” were then asked to verify if they were criminals or not by providing their fingerprints and facial data to the police, Rafeeq said.

Facial recognition for ration delivery: In the future, in Telangana, your facial data may be key to getting access to essential items such as rice, sugar, and wheat under the public distribution system (PDS). While the Indian government is still in the process of developing Aadhaar-based facial recognition, the Telangana government has identified a use case for the same and is planning to introduce it in the state’s fair price shops.

Artificial Intelligence in Hyderabad CCTVs: Around 2,000 CCTVs out of the 350,000 within the Hyderabad district limits have been enabled with artificial intelligence to monitor mask violators. Many questioned the security of the servers where this information was being stored, and many raised privacy concerns.

Drones in districts of Telangana: During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few district police teams in Telangana used drones, in some cases equipped with sirens, for surveillance and for keeping an eye out on lockdown violators.

Legal notice to Hyderabad City Police Commissioner: In a legal notice served by a Hyderabad-based social activist to Hyderabad City Police Commissioner Anjani Kumar, the Hyderabad Police was asked to stop using artificial intelligence-based tools, especially facial recognition systems, for enforcing lockdowns.

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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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