Facial recognition technology is becoming an integral part of the law enforcement mechanism tool. The major question is, does it need to be regulated before it intervenes in our personal spaces. Does facial recognition is another technological intervention to take away the right to privacy of citizens?

Major Use of Facial Recognition Technology

  • 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.
  • Better border controls and countering terrorism.
  • Aid the Police: In India, a severely under-policed nation, facial recognition surely offers many benefits.

Major concerns against facial recognition

  • Surveillance capitalism and surveillance state: The companies were seen as monetising the data generated by the widespread use of digital platforms like Google and Facebook.
  • Surveillance state:  China became the prime example of states using data and information to exercise ever more control over its citizens.
  • Accuracy:At the other end are concerns that facial recognition is not entirely accurate and could lead to punitive actions against innocent people.
  • Racial bias misogyny:There is also a concern in the US that the algorithms behind facial recognition carry the baggage of racism and misogyny.
  • Concerns in India: It also remains a fact that the Indian state has always been tempted to empower itself against its citizens in the name of collective security.
  • It has also tended to weaponize information against political opponents and dissidents.
  • 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.

International Debate on Its Regulation

  • Google calls for partial ban: Google CEO’s recent support for a temporary ban on facial recognition technologies seems uncharacteristic.
  • It is not often that companies developing a technology call for its ban. Their interest is in promoting the use of technology, not barring it. Not every one of the leading tech companies agrees with Google on facial recognition.
  • Microsoft is against the ban: Microsoft has questioned the idea of a ban. Calling facial recognition, a “young technology”, it said “it will get better. The only way to make it better is actually to continue developing it which means having more people using it.
  • IBM’s precision regulation:IBM has taken a step forward in developing the policies for the use of technology by setting up a “lab”. The lab will generate actionable ideas for policymakers to manage the emergence of new technologies like facial recognition that are shaping our digital future. Precision regulation vs. complete ban: The idea is to develop “precision regulation” rather than enforce “blunt” instruments like the ban.
  • The EU’s plans for temporary ban:The debate on finding the right balance between regulation and promotion of emerging technologies comes in the wake of leaked plans of the EU to issue a temporary ban. And Ban on use in public places only.
  • India’s own plans for law enforcement agencies:The intensifying global debate also coincides with India’s own plans to roll out a massive project on deploying facial recognition technologies, essentially for law enforcement.
  • The international discourse provides the context for developing a broad and effective Indian policy framework for the use of facial recognition.

Problems with regulations

  • The main argument was that regulation constrains technological innovation and retards its progress.
  • AI and Big data:  The urge to regulate has triggered widespread concerns about the dangers of digitalisation, especially the use of big data and AI by private companies as well as governments.

Shall There Be Rules Governing This New Techological Landscape?

  • 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.
  • 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.

Conclusion

We need regulations that restrict the use of facial recognition to the minimum required to serve justice and ease commercial operations.

India shall develop a productive alignment between India’s national interests and the development of new digital norms.

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