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Facial recognition at airports from 2022


After a delay of three years, come March 2022, passengers will be able to use a face scan as their boarding pass at four airports in the country.


GS-III: Science and Technology, GS-III: Internal Security Challenges

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the implementation of Facial Recognition
  2. Introduction to Face Recognition
  3. How does it work?
  4. About Facial Recognition in India
  5. Concerns regarding Facial Recognition Technology
  6. Legal tangles of Implementing Facial Recognition in India 
  7. Global obsession and fears and use of Facial Recognition 

About the implementation of Facial Recognition

  • Airports at Varanasi, Pune, Kolkata and Vijaywada will be the first to roll-out the facial recognition technology-based biometric boarding system, and the service will go live from March 2022.
  • Thereafter, the technology will be scaled up in a phased manner across various airports in the country.
  • The Airports Authority of India has engaged NEC Corporation Private Limited for implementing the technology as part of the DigiYatra policy, which seeks to promote paperless air travel and a seamless journey from entering an airport till boarding a plane.
  • The policy was unveiled in October 2018, and as per the original plan, the roll-out of the facial recognition technology was scheduled for April 2019.

Introduction to Face Recognition

  • Humans are able to recognize faces based on a ‘facial vocabulary’ that enables humans to recognize at least 5,000 faces, their peculiarities and profiles without “thinking” about it.
  • Now, technological interventions are trying to replicate this biological process – using algorithms by which millions of faces can be compared and assessed to identify or verify who a person is.
  • Face-recognition technology is becoming commonplace, used in most smartphones for unlocking.
  • Several popular mobile applications, such as Instagram and Snapchat, use the technology to tag individuals and apply filters to photographs.
  • In recent years, three-dimensional facial recognition devices have captured a significant market as retailers deploy them to gauge customers’ facial gestures and expressions to gain insights into their shopping behaviors.

How does it work?

  • The first level of facial recognition includes the detection of a human face from an image or video.
  • The second level involves creating a facial signature of individuals by extracting and cataloguing unique features of their face (like length of the jawline, the spacing between the eyes etc.)
  • At the final level, the facial signatures are compared with a database of human images and videos.

Using Facial Recognition for good

  • The life of the facial recognition software in India began benevolently with the aim to identify missing children.
  • In those circumstances, an accuracy rate of even 1 per cent is admirable; one more child out of every 100 returned to the safety of their families.
  • But the same statistics seem totalitarian and dystopian when they are capable of implicating citizens with criminality.

About Facial Recognition in India

  • During the February 2020 Delhi riots, it was declared in the parliament Delhi Police tapped into driving licence and voter identity databases to apprehend 1,900 rioters.
  • However, an affidavit filed by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development to the Delhi High Court claims that the technology used to recognize faces cannot even distinguish between boys and girls.
  • Earlier in 2018, even the Delhi Police admitted in the high court that the accuracy of its facial recognition system was not more than 2 per cent.

National Automated Facial Recognition System

  • In 2019 the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) invited bids to create and establish the National Automated Facial Recognition System (NAFRS) (or just AFRS) protocol stating that “this is an effort in the direction of modernizing the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification and its dissemination among various police organizations and units across the country.”
  • The National Automated Facial Recognition System will have a searchable visual database of “missing persons, unidentified found persons, arrested foreigners, unidentified dead bodies and criminals based around dynamic police databases”.
  • It will also have individual information, such as name, age, addresses and special physical characteristics.
  • The AFRS is a centralised web application, and is expected to be the foundation for “a national level searchable platform of facial images”.
  • The surveillance tool will be integrated with centrally maintained databases such as the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), the Inter-operable Criminal Justice System (ICJS), and the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS).

Concerns regarding Facial Recognition Technology

  • Policing and law and order being State subjects, some Indian States have started the use of new technologies without fully appreciating the dangers involved.
  • Facial recognition does not return a definitive result. It identifies or verifies only in probabilities (e.g., a 70% likelihood that the person shown on an image is the same person on a watch list).
  • Though the accuracy has improved over the years due to modern machine-learning algorithms, the risk of error and bias still exists. There is a possibility of producing ‘false positives’ (incorrect match) resulting in wrongful arrest.
  • Research suggests facial recognition software is based on pre-trained models. Therefore, if certain types of faces (such as female, children, ethnic minorities) are under-represented in training datasets, then this bias will negatively impact its performance.
  • With the element of error and bias, facial recognition can result in profiling of some overrepresented groups (such as Dalits and minorities) in the criminal justice system.

Legal tangles of Implementing Facial Recognition in India 

  • The proposed system has no legal backing, claims Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a non-profit in Delhi, which has recently issued notices to the Union home ministry and NCRB over the legality of the system.
  • IFF’s notice draws strength from the Supreme Court verdict in the 2017 Justice K S Puttaswamy case which said that privacy constitutes a fundamental right under the Article 21 of Indian Constitution which ensures ‘right to life and personal liberty’.
  • It added that any interference in an individual’s privacy by the state should be done only in a manner that is “fair, just and reasonable”.
  • The Information Technology Act, 2000, which classifies biometric data as a type of sensitive personal data, also has rules for the collection, disclosure and sharing of such information.
  • In the Aadhaar card case, the apex court had also noted that although the disclosure of information in the interest of national security cannot be faulted with, the power to make such decisions should preferably be vested in the hands of a judicial officer and not concentrated with the executive.

Global obsession and fears and use of Facial Recognition 

  • Without legal safeguards, facial recognition technology is set to undermine democratic values.
  • Recently, in the U.S. a man was arrested wrongly after being misidentified by Facial Recognition. This is the biggest fear as most countries including India and the US lack the legal framework that can bring accountability into the system.
  • Almost 85 per cent of countries with facial recognition systems employ it for surveillance, suggests the Artificial Intelligence Global Surveillance Index 2019.
  • The index, released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, found that facial recognition systems were in place in 75 countries.
  • In 2011, the technology helped confirm the identity of Osama bin Laden when he was killed in a US raid.
  • Corporations are also expanding the scope of facial recognition to study and predict human behavior. By assessing customers’ facial expressions and even bodily responses, retailers aim to gain better insights into consumer behavior and increase their sales.

-Source: The Hindu

April 2024