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Facial recognition technology

Topics Covered: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

Facial recognition technology:


While the facial recognition tracking (FRT) system has seen rapid deployment by multiple government departments in recent times, there are no specific laws or guidelines to regulate the use of this potentially invasive technology.


  • There are currently 16 different FRT systems in active utilisation by various Central and State governments across India for surveillance, security or authentication of identity.
  • Another 17 are in the process of being installed by different government departments.

What are the Concerns?

  1. Absence of specific laws or guidelines poses a huge threat to the fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and expression because it does not satisfy the threshold the Supreme Court had set in its landmark privacy judgment in the ‘Justice K.S. Puttaswamy Vs Union of India’ case.
  2. Many institutions have not conducted “privacy impact assessment” prior to deployment of the facial recognition system (FRS).
  3. Function creep: A function creep happens when someone uses information for a purpose that is not the original specified purpose (Police got permission to use the FRS by an order of the Delhi High Court for tracking missing children. Now they are using it for wider security and surveillance and investigation purpose, which is a function creep).
  4. This might lead to an over-policing problem or problems where certain minorities are targeted without any legal backing or any oversight as to what is happening. Another problem that may arise is of mass surveillance, wherein the police are using the FRT system during protest.
  5. Mass surveillance: If someone goes to a protest against the government, and the police are able to identify the person, then there might be repercussions.
  6. The basis of the Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) is a Cabinet note of 2009. But the Cabinet note is not a legal substance, it’s a procedural note at best. So it does not form a valid legal system based on which the AFRS can be built.

What is facial recognition?

Facial recognition is a biometric technology that uses distinctive features on the face to identify and distinguish an individual.

  • 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”.

Benefits of facial recognition:

  1. Improves outcomes in the area of Criminal identification and verification.
  2. Easy identification amongst crowds.
  3. Boosts the police department’s crime investigation capabilities.
  4. Helps civilian verification when needed. No one will be able to get away with a fake ID.

Need of the hour:

The Supreme Court in the Puttaswamy judgment ruled that privacy is a fundamental right even in public spaces. And if these rights needs to be infringed, then the government has to show that such action is sanctioned by law, proportionate to the need for such interference, necessary and in pursuit of a legitimate aim.


Prelims Link:

  1. What is FRT?
  2. How it works?
  3. Puttaswamy judgement is related to?

Mains Link:

FRT- uses and concerns.

Sources: the Hindu.