In a move that will intensify surveillance in public places, the Railways Department is working on installing facial recognition system (FRS) at all major stations at the East Central Railway, according to a report by Times of India (TOI). According to sources from the railway board that TOI spoke to, the objective to install FRS at stations is to “enhance security measures”, while linking data collected through FRS to existing database of criminal activities in and around the railway station premises.
The report added that the railways department has identified at least 200 stations for a complete security overhaul, of which a few stations fall under the ECR jurisdiction.
Why it matters:
The rampant use of facial recognition technology for preventing crime in India has emerged as a concerning issue amidst legal uncertainties around the use of automated systems in public places. Recently, the Madras High Court issued notice to the Tamil Nadu government in response to a petition challenging the use of FRT in the state. Unchecked use of FRT-integrated applications has time and again infringed upon people’s right to privacy and freedom of movement. The railways department plans to link the data captured by the FRS to other crime databases, which poses a risk of mass-profiling and surveillance, and also raises concerns of tech-induced discrimination against communities.
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Does the data protection law allow for such data collection?
India’s Digital Personal Data Protection Act offers a wide range of exemptions to government entities for processing people’s personal data without having to follow necessary safeguards such obtaining consent, or even providing information on such activities to the person whose data is being processed. Further, Section 17(1)(c) of the bill also exempts entities which are processing personal data in the interest of prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of any offence from certain key provisions of the law.
This essentially means that the railways can justify the collection of people’s facial data without consent or their knowledge for the prevention of crime, while there’s little clarity about mechanisms to secure such a database.
Railways have evaded questions on data safety:
As Western Railways planned to expand the CCTV network across stations to prevent railway crimes in 2022, MediaNama reached out to the department enquiring about the safety of data collected through the camera systems. However, the department failed to provide detailed responses to critical questions, on:
- Access to data collected through the CCTV network to the police for crime investigation
- Details on storage of such data
- Efficacy of surveillance systems in the reduction of crimes at railway stations
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