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Facial recognition has become a cause for concern in western democracies. The European Commission is considering imposing a five-year moratorium on the use of facial recognition technologies in the European Union (EU). In the United States (US), municipalities have passed, or are considering passing prohibitions, India, however, is rushing to adopt public facial recognition. Facial recognition systems have been active at several major Indian airports, including the Delhi airport. These systems at airports have been installed under the DigiYatra initiative. Telangana’s election commission piloted a facial recognition app in its civic elections on January 22, and claimed that it could address the issue of voter impersonation. Facial recognition is a biometric technology that uses distinctive features on the face to identify and distinguish an individual. From the first cameras that could recognise faces in the mid-1960s up to now, facial recognition has evolved in many ways- from looking at 3D contours of a face to recognising skin patterns. With machine learning, the technology has become capable of sorting out types of faces

Automated facial recognition:

  • AFRS works by maintaining a large database with photos and videos of peoples’ faces. Then, a new image of an unidentified person — often taken from CCTV footage — is compared to the existing database to find a match and identify the person.
  • The artificial intelligence technology used for pattern-finding and matching is called “neural networks”.

NCRB’s request call:

  • The NCRB, which manages crime data for police, would like to use automated facial recognition to identify criminals, missing people, and unidentified dead bodies, as well as for “crime prevention”.
  • Its Request for Proposal calls for gathering CCTV footage, as well as photos from newspapers, raids, and sketches.
  • The project is aimed at being compatible with other biometrics such as iris and fingerprints.
  • NCRB has proposed integrating this facial recognition system with multiple existing databases.
  • The most prominent is the NCRB-managed Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS).
  • Facial recognition has been proposed in the CCTNS program since its origin.
  • The new facial recognition system will be integrated with Integrated Criminal Justice System (ICJS), as well as state-specific systems, the Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration & Tracking (IVFRT), and the Khoya Paya portal on missing children.

Need for AFRS:

  • Automated Facial Recognition System can play a very vital role in improving outcomes in the area of Criminal identification and verification by facilitating easy recording, analysis, retrieval and sharing of Information between different organisations.
  • While fingerprints and iris scans provide far more accurate matching results, automatic facial recognition is an easier solution especially for identification amongst crowds.
  • The integration of fingerprint database, face recognition software and iris scans will massively boost the police department’s crime investigation capabilities.
  • It will also help civilian verification when needed. No one will be able to get away with a fake ID.
  • It will also help civilian verification when needed.
  • It also plans to offer citizen services, such as passport verification, crime reporting, online tracking of case progress, grievance reporting against police officers etc.

Why EC wants to temporary ban on facial recognition technologies?

  • European Commission believes that indiscriminate use of facial recognition technologies is a privacy threat, and some regulations are needed so that this does not easily give way to surveillance.
  • During the temporary ban period, “a sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures could be identified and developed


  • Source from where the images will be collected.
  • Cyber experts across the world have cautioned against government abuse of facial recognition technology, as it can be used as tool of control and risks inaccurate results.
  • Amid NCRB’s controversial step to install an automated facial recognition system, India should take note of the ongoing privacy debate in the US.
  • In the absence of data protection law, Indian citizens are more vulnerable to privacy abuses.
  • Use of surveillance cameras and facial recognition constrict the rights of particular class of people.
  • In the US, the FBI and Department of State operate one of the largest facial recognition systems.
  • International organisations have also condemned the Chinese government on its use of surveillance cameras and facial recognition to constrict the rights of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority.

How is facial recognition used in today’s world?

  • It is increasingly being used for everything: from unlocking your phone to validating your identity, from auto-tagging digital photos to finding missing persons, and from targeted advertising to law enforcement.
  • China’s reported use of facial recognition technologies for surveillance in Xinjiang is an example of when this becomes problematic. It also becomes problematic in the absence of privacy and data security laws.

Need of the hour:

  • With proper safeguard this technology is much needed for India.
  • The pace at which we are using technology which could have bearing on piracy seems to be more than the pace to put in mechanism to protect privacy which has to be addressed.
  • The notion that sophisticated technology means greater efficiency needs to be critically analysed.
  • A deliberative approach will benefit Indian law enforcement, as police departments around the world are currently learning that the technology is not as useful in practice as it seems in theory.
  • Police departments in London are under pressure to put a complete end to use of facial recognition systems following evidence of discrimination and inefficiency.
  • San Francisco recently implemented a complete ban on police use of facial recognition. India would do well to learn from their mistakes.