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[op-ed snap] Frame rules to govern how devices identify us


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much.

Mains level: Paper 3- Face recognition technique, its uses and related issue.


Facial recognition technology is set to become an integral part of the law enforcement toolkit, but we should regulate this technology before it pervades our public spaces.

What are the issues with the use of facial recognition?

  • Enormous possibilities for law enforcement agencies:
    • Detectives have been using facial recognition to solve crimes for almost as long as the camera has been in existence.
    • Use of AI for facial recognition: It is but a logical extension of the modern crime solver’s toolkit to use artificial intelligence (AI) on the most identifiable physical feature of people, their face.
    • Screening faces within hours: An image captured at the scene of a crime can now be screened against photographs of entire populations for a match within a matter of hours.
  • Uneasiness with being watched: The idea of being watched by devices linked to vast databases far out of sight makes liberal societies uneasy.
  • Invasion of privacy:  The intrusion that is causing alarm, however, has nothing to do with the technology itself, and everything to do with the all-pervasive surveillance it enables.

Should there be no rules governing it?

  • Issue of accuracy: How accurately faces are identified by machines is a major point of concern. Deployed in law enforcement, false matches could possibly result in a miscarriage of justice.
    • Judicial scrutiny: Even a low rate of error could mean evidence faces judicial rejection. It is in the judiciary’s interest, all the same, to let technology aid police-work.
  • Racial bias: First up for addressal is the criticism that facial recognition is still not smart enough to read emotions or work equally well for all racial groups.
    • With iterative use, it will improve.
  • Mala fide use: Since such tools can be put to mala fide use as-rogue drones equipped with the technology, for example, should never be in a position to carry out an assassination.
    • Nor should an unauthorized agent be able to spy on or stalk anyone.
    • Caution in the developed countries:  Apart from California, the European Union has also decided to exercise some caution before exposing people to it.
  • Privacy as fundamental rights in India: India, which has recently accepted privacy as a fundamental right, would do well to tilt the Western way on this.


  • We need regulations that restrict the use of facial recognition to the minimum required to serve justice and ease commercial operations. For the latter, customer consent should be mandatory.
  • There will be some overlaps. Its use at an aerobridge to board an aircraft, for example, could serve the interests of both state security and the airline, but data-sharing could risk leakage.



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