Delhi Police’s use of facial recognition technology

Source: The post is based on the article “Delhi Police’s use of facial recognition technology” published in The Hindu on 22nd August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

Relevance: To understand facial recognition technology.

News: A recent RTI findings reveal that the Delhi Police treats matches of above 80% similarity generated by its facial recognition technology system as positive results. But it is unclear why 80% has been chosen as the threshold between positive and false positive.

What is facial recognition technology?

It is an algorithm-based technology which creates a digital map of the face by identifying and mapping an individual’s facial features, which it then matches against the database to which it has access.

What are the various purposes of facial recognition?

It can be used for two purposes:

1) One on one(1:1) verification of identity wherein the facial map is obtained for the purpose of matching it against the person’s photograph on a database to authenticate their identity.

Examples, using facial recognition to unlock phones or providing access to any benefits or government schemes.

2) One to many (1:n) identification of identity wherein the facial map is obtained from a photograph or video and then matched against the entire database to identify the person in the photograph or video.

For example, law enforcement agencies such as the Delhi Police usually procure FRT for 1:n identification.

Why match score is important for facial recognition?

For 1:n identification, FRT generates a probability or a match score between the suspect who is to be identified and the available database of identified criminals. A list of possible matches are generated on the basis of their likelihood to be the correct match with corresponding match scores.

About Delhi police and others using FRT

The Delhi Police first obtained FRT for the purpose of tracing and identifying missing children. The procurement was authorised as per a 2018 direction of the Delhi High Court in Sadhan Haldar vs NCT of Delhi. In 2020, the Delhi Police stated that they were using FRT for police investigations.

As per available RTI’s, the Delhi Police has consequently used FRT for investigation purposes and also specifically during the 2020 northeast Delhi riots, the 2021 Red Fort violence, and the 2022 Jahangirpuri riots.

Multiple cities, including Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Lucknow are rolling out “Safe City” programmes which implement surveillance infrastructures to reduce gender-based violence.

What are the harmful effects of using FRT?

Issues related to misidentification due to inaccuracy: Extensive research into the technology has revealed that its accuracy rates fall starkly based on race and gender.

This can result in a false positive, where a person is misidentified as someone else, or a false negative where a person is not verified as themselves thereby lead to exclusion. For instance, the use of FRT by law enforcement authorities has already led to three people in the U.S. being wrongfully arrested.

Issues related to mass surveillance due to misuse of the technology: At present, India does not have a data protection law or a FRT specific regulation to protect against misuse.

Illegitimate collection of data: For instance, the Delhi Police is matching the photographs/videos against photographs collected under Section three and four of the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920. This law has now been replaced by the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022.

The new Act allows for wider categories of data to be collected from a wider section of people, this might lead to broad collection of personal data in violation of internationally recognised best practices for the collection and processing of data.

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