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Smart City Initiative: Dharamshala calls for CCTVs with face detection for city surveillance

Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala city will soon join India’s list of ‘smart cities’ with AI-based surveillance system in place

What’s the news: Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala city will soon join India’s list of ‘smart cities’ with AI-based surveillance system in place. The CCTV network to be set up throughout the city will come with face detection, people counting motion detection and more, as per a tender aired by the Dharamshala Smart City authorities.

Dharamshala is one of the shortlisted cities for the smart city initiative under the Ministry of Urban Development. Under this project, AI-based CCTV, automatic number-plate recognition (ANPR) and other ‘Smart City solutions’ will be implemented at identified locations across the city. This includes “market places, government offices, recreation spots, parks, bus stands and city bus stops, tourist locations, holy places, educational institutions, traffic junctions, entry and exit points of the city, parking locations etc.”

In line with this, the latest tender calls for the “supply installation, testing, commissioning of Data Center, City Surveillance and laying of city Fiber network” for five years. This tender offers the latest surveillance technology for government authorities managing the tourist city, including law enforcement agencies.

Why it matters: While face detection differs from facial recognition, the collection of biometric data is still a concern in the absence of a data protection law. The surveillance network mentioned in this tender will essentially collect the data of at least 53,543 people living in the city as per the 2011 census. Further, it will also record facial information of tourists visiting the relevant regions in the city. This collection of mass data under the garb of “smart city” and “public safety” has become a popular trend among Indian authorities. Experts hoped that the implementation of a data protection law will address concerns about privacy. However, an analysis of the latest Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022 indicates that law enforcement agencies might in fact enjoy a bigger scope of surveillance and misuse of personal data of citizens.


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All cameras to have face detection feature

As per the tender, the authorities have asked for three types of surveillance cameras—two kinds of area monitoring cameras and dome cameras.

Camera Type 1: This is an area monitoring camera for outdoor housing and mounting arrangements. These cameras will have inbuilt Video Content Analytics including Camera Tripwire, Cross Warning Zone, Motion Detection, Intrusion Detection, Audio Detection, People Counting, Face Detection.

Camera Type 2: These are PoE Box cameras with inbuilt Video Content Analytics like CLine crossing detection, intrusion detection, unattended baggage detection, object removal detection, Face Detection. These cameras will also have inbuilt or external infra-red and cover distances up to 50 m or more.

Camera Type 3: These are dome cameras with an intelligent feature set. Such cameras can carry out Face detection, Unattended baggage detection, Intrusion detection. All of this can either be provided on camera or through server based analytic.

Although all three of these camera types include face detection, only the first two types are required to have “eight privacy masking zones” to block out “unwanted or prohibited areas within the video image to protect privacy.”

Face detection vs face recognition

Face detection software identifies human faces in digital images or videos and is often used in cases involving biometric work. Meanwhile, facial recognition system is a technology that matches human faces from a digital image or video with a database of faces. Face detection is often a feature of the latter and serves a bigger purpose in data collection to create a database of faces.

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In this case, the tender only deals with face detection and not facial recognition. However, the software can gather vast biometric data of people. In the past, experts have voiced concern about the use of such technologies to “resolve” civil protests, working against people’s democratic rights.

Dharamshala CCTVs in the works since 2018:, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur had talked about a ₹ 2,100 crore smart city project for Dharamshala four years ago to provide “world standard basic amenities” to residents and tourists, reported The Statesman. These amenities included 228 CCTVs throughout the city and digitalised public services. At the time, there was no mention of a face detection technology.

Surveillance to help with actionable intelligence, claims tender

In the integrated scope section of the tender, the government said that the solutions will create systems reporting on public safety issues, traffic events and provide data on outages and status of related work orders.

It talks about integrating feeds of existing CCTV cameras and new CCTV cameras on real time basis as well as ANPR, RLVD, Speed detection systems, Traffic Violation cameras, Emergency Call Box/Panic Buttons, PA Systems, and other sensors to assist with “actionable intelligence.” Although the definition of this term is not defined in the tender, it is understood to deal with big data and predictive modelling, considering that the new DPDP Bill allows government agencies to retain data forever.

Further, it called for a dashboard for crowd management with graphical representation of crowd levels of the areas under coverage, trend analysis for peak and off-peak days, alerts for excessive crowds, etc.

No penalty for failing to prevent crime: In terms of protecting data privacy and security, the tender only asks the System Integrator to provide a detailed information security architecture. There is also no mention of penalties for failing to protect people’s data.

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As mentioned earlier, the current version of the data protection Bill provides certain exemption to government agencies. Particularly, Section 18(1) of the Bill exempts such agencies when the “personal data is processed in the interest of prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of any offence or contravention of any law.”

Similarly, under ‘Obligations to Data Fiduciaries’, entities can also retain data for “legal or business purposes.” All of this essentially absolves the government of any consequences of managing or sharing data.

CCTV network surveillance across India

Of course, AI-based CCTV surveillance is nothing new in India. Jammu and Kashmir police continues to issue tenders to create a wide surveillance network in the regions. These cameras are spread across major schools, universities, colleges, offices, and public transport hubs in the region. Further, earlier tenders have shown how the agencies plan to work in FRT in these networks to “blacklist” and “whitelist” individuals that they deem ‘suspicious’.

Similarly, the Jabalpur Municipal Corporation released a tender in September to implement a surveillance system to ‘monitor protests and behaviour of people’. This is similar to a tender floated by the Odisha government in April, 2022 that called for FRS and video analytics to ‘track people’ and ‘recognise patterns of demonstration in crowds’ among other things. At the time, experts speaking to MediaNama talked about the need for a regulatory framework and a comprehensive and harmonised regulation of CCTVs to mitigate privacy risks.

There are many more such surveillance technology related tenders from different parts of India, many of which lack provisions that hold the government accountable for collecting personal data. Considering the revisions made in the DPDP Bill, 2022 provide more power to the government, it is important that the public pay closer attention to such tenders and demand accountability from the government and law enforcement agencies.


This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.

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I'm interested in the shaping and strengthening of rights in the digital space. I cover cybersecurity, platform regulation, gig worker economy. In my free time, I'm either binge-watching an anime or off on a hike.

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

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