India’s Telangana state faces lawsuit over use of facial recognition

Jan 20,2022: According to Al Jazeera, a lawsuit challenging facial recognition as unconstitutional in Telangana, has been filed against the state using the most facial recognition systems.

S Q Masood, a Muslim resident of Telengana has filed a lawsuit over Telangana state’s use of facial recognition systems after he was stopped on the street by police who asked him to remove his face mask and then took his picture, giving no reason and ignoring his objections.

Masood says he was worried about how the photo may be used and had sent a legal notice to the police chief but after receiving no response, he decided to file the lawsuit, first of its kind in India.

Speaking to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, Masood said, “Being Muslim and having worked with minority groups that are frequently targeted by the police, I’m concerned that my photo could be matched wrongly and that I could be harassed,”

“It is also about my right to privacy, and my right to know why my photograph was taken, what it will be used for, who can access it, and how it’s protected. Everyone has a right to know this information,”

In the southern state, Masood’s request is being seen as a test case because a nationwide facial recognition system has been deployed, with digital rights activists saying it violates privacy and other fundamental rights. Facial recognition technology, which is increasingly being used for everything from unlocking cell phones to checking in at airports, captures a person’s live images using artificial intelligence (AI) and matches it to a database.

The Indian government, which is launching a nationwide automated facial recognition system – one of the largest in the world – has said it wants to prevent crime and search for missing children in a country with very few police to find children and reduce crime.

But critics say there is little evidence that technology reduces crime.

AI also often fails to identify women and darker-skinned persons accurately, and its use is problematic in the absence of a data protection law in India, digital rights activists say.

The rights of Muslims, Dalits, indigenous peoples, transgender people and other historically disadvantaged groups are at particular risk from such surveillance, activists say. Police have already used the system for quelling protests.

Masood’s case, which is scheduled to be heard later this year, argues that the use of facial recognition is “unconstitutional and illegal” in Telangana. It says it is unnecessary, disproportionate, and lacks safety precautions to prevent misuse.

The petition reads, “This illegality cannot be cured or justified on the basis of its purported benefits in advancing law enforcement interests – under the guise of providing better policing … (when) these purported benefits are yet to be proven,”

Masood, who is now well acquainted with the CCTV cameras and police officers taking pictures of Hyderabad residents, wants to see the dangers of recognizing the other face. “The state has spent so much money on it, yet people don’t know how it works, how it can be misused, and how it misuses their privacy,” he said. “Every day we are losing our fight to protect our privacy.”

According to the website Comparitech, along with Chinese cities, Hyderabad and New Delhi have the highest number of CCTV cameras in the world. The state of Telangana has more than 600,000 cameras – most of them in the capital Hyderabad – and the police can take pictures on their mobile phones and tablets using an application and match them on a database.

According to a study published last year by Amnesty International, the IFF and the rights group Article 19, the state is “the most surveilled place in the world”, with systems deployed by the police, the Election Commission and others.

Meanwhile, the Hyderabad police say the technology has served as a “deterrent” and helped them catch criminals.

In some parts of the world, companies, including Microsoft and Amazon, are cutting off or stopping the sale of technology to the police, and the European Union is considering a five-year ban, a growing push against the use of facial recognition.

In India, there is growing resistance from students, municipal workers and minority communities as more services are available online and government agencies and companies need personal data and location tracking apps to carry out day-to-day operations.

The Data Protection Plan provides extensive exemptions to government agencies for national security purposes.

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