Primary school teachers in Lucknow have signed a dissent note demanding withdrawal of the mandate to mark attendance via a facial recognition application on their mobile phones, according to a report by Times of India. The teachers’ protest comes after they were asked to follow a government order that pushed the implementation of facial recognition-based attendance system under a pilot project that’s been launched in six districts.
The order also raised apprehensions about salary deduction if the attendance was registered later than the said time. Teachers have highlighted concerns regarding lack of access to better internet connectivity to mark the attendance on time, technical issues with application, and most importantly, the difficulties faced by teachers living in remote locations to reach the school.
Why it matters:
The growing trend of mandating facial recognition-based attendance systems for government employees and for teachers in several states raise the issue of workplace surveillance in India. In a petition filed at the Allahabad High Court, a Kanpur university professor challenged the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) on the grounds of privacy and personal freedom.
Such unilateral moves by the authorities to deploy facial recognition technology without enough safeguards point to concerns about the data being misused for purposes other than recording attendance. FRT-based attendance systems have been implemented in multiple States/UTs including Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, and Tamil Nadu. The AP government had also stated that the technology will be linked to the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) and records the longitude and latitude of the place where the teacher is present. This indicates that the FRT database can also be used for various data collation purposes other than just recording attendance.
Further, in context of India’s data protection law, can government schools be exempted from provisions related to an individual’s consent before agreeing to share their data is something we need clarity on. This is because while certain state instrumentalities or agencies collecting data would exempt from the mandate to obtain consent of the data principal, the government has not notified such state instrumentalities. This adds to the legal uncertainties concerning the use of facial recognition technology by public or private institutions.
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