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Exclusive: J&K Police wants to blacklist ‘suspects’ based on facial recognition and artificial intelligence

The use of facial recognition tech for policing brings with it questions of surveillance and discrimination.

You are reading it here first: The Jammu and Kashmir police department is planning to introduce a facial recognition technology (FRT) system in the Union Territory with a database that is capable of storing details of over 10,000 people in a ‘watchlist’. Through the FRT system, J&K Police will also be able to ‘blacklist’ individuals that they deem as suspicious, vice-versa ‘whitelist’ them, and receive alerts based on these actions.

These details are part of J&K Police’s plan to introduce 200 facial recognition-enabled CCTV cameras and thus, expand CCTV surveillance of the Union Territory by integrating it with existing surveillance infrastructure, enabling geographical information system (GIS) mapping, and so on. The police floated a tender (viewed by MediaNama) to introduce these technologies and appoint a system integrator for the CCTV surveillance network.

Such applications of facial recognition technology paint a grim picture of the present state of surveillance in India and where it’s headed in the absence of robust data privacy laws. Not to mention that the latest draft of India’s Data Protection Bill says that the Central Government will have the authority to exempt any agency of the government (like J&K Police) from the provisions of the act, subject to just, fair, reasonable, and proportionate procedure.

Facial recognition to be used for detecting crowds, people stone pelting

The J&K Police cited several use cases for AI-based video analytics and facial recognition system and particularly stressed the need for identifying individuals in a crowd. In this regard, the police said that the video analytics software should be able to:

  • Detect a crowd within the field of view of the camera
  • Detect the total number of persons and their gender
  • Estimate crowd density
  • Detect a person falling down suddenly
  • Recognise a person with a beard, wearing glasses
  • Detect people ‘stone pelting’
  • Match suspected criminal face from pre-recorded feeds
  • Throw alerts if “suspected/blacklisted” people are captured in a frame composing multiple people
  • Create a dataset of “whitelisted” individuals and enable a feature that can “raise severity alert”.

The police also said that the software should be able to identify objects according to any combination of colours; identify objects added or removed from one or more user-defined areas, and so on.

“High security areas such as defence establishments, critical infrastructure, Govt establishments, etc. have a great need of tracking people movement in their premises. Proposed Tracking Analytics is the ideal solution for such establishments,” the J&K police claimed.

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J&K Police want an FRT system that is above 90% accurate 

In the technical requirements section of the proposal, the J&K police said that the accuracy of the facial recognition system should be above 90% within 20 meters from a CCTV camera’s location. These are the other requirements —

  • Should generate true alerts: The J&K Police specifically said the system should give ‘true alerts’ which means a result wherein the person surveilled by the system matches an actual person.
  • Performance of detection accuracy: The police also said that the FRT system should be evaluated by comparing the number of faces that are detected and recognised through a CCTV, with the total number of faces detected in the FRT system.
  • The technology should be able to compare faces using tools such as Overlap, Blend etc

The police also proposed an additional bonus point for a bidder/vendor whose facial recognition system has been evaluated by the United States of America’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

What if the FRT system is inaccurate? “The major issue with facial recognition technology is that its inaccuracy may lead to misidentification. This is highly concerning if one looks like the wrongdoer, authorities may harass the individual due to such faulty result of the technology,” Kritika Seth, Founding Partner, Victoriam Legalis – Advocates & Solicitors said.

A look at the larger CCTV surveillance network

The J&K Police said that the selected system integrator has to integrate the upcoming CCTV surveillance network with existing surveillance systems and surveillance feeds — 183 cameras in the Kashmir region and 218 cameras in the Jammu region.

Over 1,000 CCTVs will be installed across the union territory, the police said, in places such as —

  • All markets and bazaars frequented by citizens and tourists
  • Viewing capability across all roads in both day and night
  • All major schools/universities, colleges, offices, and public transport hubs
  • Roads in “sensitive” areas
  • All borders of J&K UT – entry/exit points

Rs 5 lakh penalty for network security breach

The J&K Police listed infrastructural requirements for ensuring data security, such as:

  • All databases and video storage stores must be encrypted.
  • Identify all network attacks and put countermeasures
  • Access to data will be through an application
  • Usage of virtual private networks (VPNs) for remote access and isolation of internal traffic. (Interestingly, a Rajya Sabha committee had recently recommended that VPNs should be banned in India)
  • Data will be stored in State Data Center and a security breach will cost the vendor Rs 5 lakh per breach

The police mentioned requirements for data retention such that the videos stored will be retained for 30 days; videos that generate alerts will be retained for 90 days, and videos of critical incidents will be retained for one year.

“It is understandable that authorities would be collecting as much data as possible but they should impose self restriction that data of only those should be retained against whom there is actual proof. For the rest, they should duly delete the information from their database.” — Siddharth Jain, co-founding partner PSL Advocates and Solicitors

J&K residents could be subjected to more surveillance now: Experts

Jammu and Kashmir is a highly militarized and sensitive region. In the absence of safeguards, such a technology can lead to citizens of that region becoming more susceptible to surveillance. For a democracy to function, it is non negotiable that citizens should have a freedom of movement and of dissent which will be highly impacted by this move – Prashant Sugathan, Legal Director at Software Freedom Law Center

Kritika Seth at Victoriam Legalis also pointed out that the lack of regulations may lead to the misuse of personal data by authorities. “Face recognition technology hinders an individual’s right to privacy by collecting personal data without the informed consent of the individual. This in turn entails a fear in the individual to whether or not discuss any information by exercising their fundamental rights or remain unnamed,” Seth added.

Similarly, Siddharth Jain, Co-Founding Partner, PSL Advocates & Solicitors said, “In the absence of a data protection law, any attempt to collect data by government agencies in such a manner is a point of concern.”

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CCTV images from J&K are sent to Gujarat for investigation: Report

Currently, it is cumbersome for J&K Police to forensically investigate CCTV images or videos as they have to be examined by external institutions based in other States, a report by India Today said. They aim to address this issue through the FRT system.

The report quoted an unnamed official saying, “After an incident, we usually send images or footage to the Forensic Science Laboratory [FSL] in Gujarat, who aid in tracking down terrorists and criminals. But precious time is lost.” In Srinagar’s Bemina area, the J&K Police has an FSL, but it does not help in detecting or identifying people through CCTV footage.

The report also said that the FRT will aid Jammu and Kashmir police in surveilling “noted terrorist and over-ground workers”. “For instance, if a known over-ground worker steps out, the police personnel in control will be alerted once the name of the suspect emerges from the database. His movement will be tracked and recorded,” an official was quoted by India Today as saying.

Lucknow Safe City Project’s tender mentions blacklisting too

There are glaring similarities in the various requirements of the J&K Police and the Lucknow Safe City Project in terms of — facial recognition, AI-based video analytics, blacklisting citizens, and more. Interestingly, one of the criterion for a bidder to be eligible for the J&K Police’s tender is that the bidder had to have previously worked on a Safe City or a Smart City project.

To recap, in the Lucknow Safe City project, the UP state government was looking to install 100 facial recognition cameras and to set up a system that is capable of —

  • Storing facial data of 20,000 individuals in real-time
  • Supporting manual search capabilities of a database comprising 1 lakh faces
  • Labeling faces as ‘blacklisted’ and generating alerts based on it

The UP Police wanted to add labels to faces “such as ‘employee’, ‘blacklisted’ etc. “[The system] should generate an alert if somebody is detected in an area where he/she is not permitted,” the Lucknow tender read.

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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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