Contradicting the IT Ministry’s statement over the use of facial recognition for ePrisons, the National Informatics Centre (NIC) has stated that the technology is not being used for the ePrison facility yet, in response to an RTI query filed by MediaNama on April 6, 2023. The NIC provides technology infrastructure to the government of India for various tech-oriented projects.
“NIC has not intimated Lok Sabha so far with regard to facial recognition services integration with ePrisons system as it is not being used in the ePrisons system as on date,” the NIC stated in the RTI response.
The RTI query enquired about the vendors or service providers facilitating the facial recognition services for ePrisons. We had also asked for a state-wise list of the vendors providing the facial recognition technology.
STAY ON TOP OF TECH POLICY: Our daily newsletter with the top stories of the day from MediaNama, delivered to your inbox before 9 AM. Click here to sign up today!
How does it contradict the IT Ministry’s word?
On March 29, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), in response to a Parliament question listed out the use cases of facial recognition technology in India across sectors, including ePrisons.
The Ministry stated that the AI Satyapikaanan API by the NIC facilitates facial recognition services over Meghraj Cloud—a “government initiative seeking to use Cloud Computing to ‘accelerate delivery of e-services in the country while optimizing ICT [Information and Communication Technology] spending of the government’”.
The Ministry added that around 6.86 Crore AI service requests were received by AI Satyapikaanan from various users in FY 2022-23 till 20th March 2023; the users of these services include:
- CBSE, NTA, Result Division – Candidate’s Registration System (CARES)
- Meghalaya pensioner life certificate
- Utkarsh Bangla
We have filed separate RTIs for each of these services, all of which are yet to be answered by the NIC. So far, the NIC has replied to only one RTI with the above-mentioned query. While the IT Ministry clearly mentions that facial recognition is being used for the ePrison system, the NIC, which offers the service, has denied the claim.
Why it matters:
NIC’s response indicates a confusion among the authorities responsible for managing projects like the use of facial recognition, which directly impacts the privacy of citizens who are subjected to it. The parliamentary response revealed that facial recognition is widely being used for verification and authentication via several digital platforms to offer basic services to citizens. The information on the objectives of using facial recognition for different services is not public, which raises concerns about the legality of such initiatives and whether or not the government has deployed enough safeguards for protecting people’s data. If there’s no clarity over fundamental questions related to its implementation, who is then accountable for people’s sensitive biometric data, and hence, privacy in this case?
What did we find?
The NIC does list ePrisons as one of its products on its website. The ePrison Application Suite, developed by NIC, is a cloud-based product designed to provide information about prison inmates in real time environment to prison officials and other entities, involved in Criminal Justice System. It also facilitates services related to prison administration, management, online visit request, and grievance redressal.
However, NIC cloud service Meghraj, which provides the AI Satyapikaanan to offer face verification services, does not include ePrisons as one of the systems it is used for. Similarly, face authentication for ePrisons is also not listed under the documents related to products, apps, and services provided by the NIC. Additionally, while NIC coordinators for ePrisons are listed under Meghraj Cloud coordinators, it is not clear what facility they are exactly coordinating for.
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.
- Here Are 6 Ways The Indian Government Is Collecting Your Facial Data
- Explainer: The Expert’s Guide To Understanding AI Usage In E-Governance
- How Facial Recognition Surveillance Tactics Led This Hyderabad Resident To Hold Back On His Freedoms
- US Releases Guiding Principles For Responsible Use Of Surveillance Tech By Governments