India is experiencing a trend in the use of facial recognition technology for various purposes such as surveillance and, more recently, a pilot vaccine registration.

Facial recognition technology (FRT) will not be incorporated into Aadhaar, but the technology will be used as one of the “informed consent” authentication methods, said Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar when asked in parliament.

“UIDAI is only developing Aadhaar-based facial authentication, which is currently in the Proof-of-Concept (PoC) phase,” said Chandrasekhar in response to a question from Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of West Bengal Prime Minister Mamata Banerjee and a member of the Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha from Diamond Harbor constituency. “Facial authentication can be used as one of the authentication mechanisms alongside biometric and iris-based authentication methods with the informed consent of the person,” added Chandrasekhar.

Why is it important? The use of facial recognition by the Government of India and various states has received a boost. While many such facial recognition applications are used for administrative purposes, such as presence recording, this technology is also used for surveillance purposes by the police. Several police forces such as the Kolkata Police use this technology for surveillance purposes and crime investigation. However, its use has been debated since the right to privacy was made a fundamental right in the country and the country still lacks a data protection law.

Chandrasekhar touched on the privacy aspect in his answer to Banerjee’s question without giving a really pointed answer. When asked by Banerjee whether the Government of India has researched and considered the use of FRT in the public and private sectors, Chandrasekhar said:

Facial recognition systems can be used to identify people in photos, videos, or in real time. The right to privacy is an integral part of the right to life and personal freedom under Article 21 of the Constitution. All solutions that use facial recognition technology should consider privacy concerns – Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State in MeitY

Government is working on Aadhar-based FRT for Covid-19 vaccines: RS Sharma

Back in April, the CEO of the National Health Authority, RS Sharma, announced that the Indian government would introduce a facial recognition system based on Aadhaar for Covid-19 vaccinations. The pilot was conducted in Jharkhand, which, according to Sharma, reported over 1,000 successful facial authentications per day.

Sharma had said that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) “uses the best facial recognition algorithms that we are going to use now”. The move will make the vaccination process “contactless,” he said. Individuals currently have the option to authenticate their biometric data with either their fingers or the iris.

Full question and answer

Becomes the Minister for ELECTRONICS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

(a) whether the government has investigated and addressed privacy concerns related to the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) in the public and private sectors;
(b) if so, the details and outcome thereof, and if not, the reasons for it;
(c) the central government authorities currently using, or intending to use, said FRT technology; and;
(d) Does the government propose to implement a system to integrate Aadhaar with the FRT, and if so, the details of it?

REPLY

(a) and (b): Face recognition is a way of identifying or confirming a person’s identity based on their face. Facial recognition systems can be used to identify people in photos, videos, or in real time. The right to privacy is an integral part of the right to life and personal freedom under Article 21 of the Constitution. All solutions that use facial recognition technology should take privacy concerns into account.

(c): Face recognition technology is different from face authentication mechanisms, which use one-to-one face matching for authentication after obtaining consent from the person. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) uses one-to-one face matching to provide students with digital grade sheets through an consent-based framework.

(d): No sir. UIDAI is only developing Aadhaar-based facial authentication, which is currently in the Proof of Concept (PoC) phase. In addition to biometric and iris-based authentication methods, face authentication can be used as one of the authentication mechanisms
the informed consent of the person.

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