Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

Delhi Police’s use of Facial Recognition Technology


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FRT system

Mains level : Issues with FRT

A Right to Information (RTI) response revealed that the Delhi Police treats matches of above 80% similarity generated by its facial recognition technology (FRT) system as positive results.

Why in news?

  • India has seen the rapid deployment of facial recognition technology (FRT) in recent years, both by the Union and State governments, without putting in place any law to regulate their use.

What is Facial Recognition Technology?

  • Facial recognition is an algorithm-based technology that 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.
  • It can be used for two purposes:

(A) 1:1 verification of identity

  • Here the facial map is obtained for the purpose of matching it against the person’s photograph on a database to authenticate their identity.
  • Increasingly it is being used to provide access to any benefits or government schemes.

(B) One-to-many identification

  • There is the one-to-many 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.
  • Law enforcement agencies such as the Delhi Police usually procure FRT for 1:n identification.
  • It 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.
  • However, ultimately it is a human analyst who selects the final probable match from the list of matches generated by FRT.

Why is the Delhi Police using facial recognition technology?

  • The Delhi Police first obtained FRT for the purpose of tracing and identifying missing children.
  • The procurement was authorised under the 2018 direction of the Delhi High Court in Sadhan Haldar vs. NCT of Delhi.

Issues with FRT use

  • The use of FRT presents two issues:
  1. Issues related to misidentification due to inaccuracy of the technology and
  2. Issues related to mass surveillance due to misuse of the technology
  • 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 rate, where a person is misidentified as someone else, or a false negative where a person is not verified as themselves.
  • Cases of a false positive result can lead to bias against the individual who has been misidentified.
  • On the other hand, cases of false negative results can lead to exclusion of the individual from accessing essential schemes. Ex. Failure of biometric based authentication under Aadhaar for an 90 YO person.

Authority to Delhi Police

  • The Delhi Police is matching the photographs/videos against photographs collected under Section three and four of the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920.
  • This provision has now been replaced by the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022.
  • This Act allows for wider categories of data to be collected from a wider section of people, i.e., “convicts and other persons for the purposes of identification and investigation of criminal matters”.

Why discuss this?

  • At present, India does NOT have a data protection law or a FRT specific regulation to protect against misuse.
  • In such a legal vacuum, there are no safeguards to ensure that authorities use FRT only for the purposes that they have been authorised to, as is the case with the Delhi Police.
  • FRT can enable the constant surveillance of an individual resulting in the violation of their fundamental right to privacy.
  • Yet again the nation-security narrative comes into picture which cannot be ignored.
  • It is feared that the Act will lead to overbroad collection of personal data in violation of internationally recognised best practices for the collection and processing of data.
  • This revelation raises multiple concerns as the use of facial recognition can lead to wrongful arrests and mass surveillance resulting in privacy violations (if used for propaganda politics).


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