Impact of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) on the rights of people

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Synopsis– The rapid use of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) by law enforcement without proper guidelines and regulation, will have many negative impacts on people. 


  • In recent times the facial recognition tracking (FRT) systems has seen rapid development. Central and State governments across India are using 16 different facial recognition tracking (FRT) systems for surveillance, security or authentication of identity. 
  • FRT uses algorithms to extract data points from a face to create its digital signature. This signature is compared with an existing database to find possible matches. 
  • Still, there are no specific laws or guidelines to regulate the use of this potentially invasive technology.
  • As facial recognition technology use grows, so do privacy fears. 

As a result, the FRT system poses a huge threat to the fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and expression. 

How FRT invades the fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and expression? 

The rapid growth of this technology has triggered a much-needed debate. These systems need a huge amount of sensitive personal data and biometric information, and their existence is at odds with the user’s privacy. Here are some concerning points about why people should worry about the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces. 

  1. The FRT system violates right to privacy-As per the Puttaswamy judgment, Privacy is a fundamental right, even on public spaces.  
    • Large-scale recordings, storing and analyzing of images undermines this right because it means it won’t be possible to anything in public without the state knowing about it.
  1. It operates without a clear legal or regulatory framework-There is a lack of detailed and specific information as to how facial recognition is actually used.
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    • The system has no legal backing, claims Internet Freedom Foundation [IFF], which has recently issued notices to the Union home ministry and NCRB over the legality of the system.
    • If the police has detained or arrested any person with the use of the FRT system, then there is not proper guidelines/set of SOP of what to do. 
  1. Function creep surveillance– Function creeps” occurs when information is used for a purpose that is not the original intended. 
    • Use of facial recognition software in India began benevolently for identify missing children. Now it is being used for all kinds of surveillance. This shift from locating missing children to identifying rioters happened without any legal sanction or due planning and procedure which it a function creep.
  1. It has a chilling effect on our democratic rights
    • Blanket surveillance can deter individuals from attending public protests. It can stifle participation in political protests and campaigns for change. And it can discourage nonconformist behavior. 
    • This chilling effect is a serious infringement on the right to freedom of assembly, association, and expression.
  1. It is often inaccurate– t is not 100% accurate and there can be “misidentification (false positive) and failure to identify (false negative).
    • In case of a false positive- the algorithm said photos of two different people showed the same person
    • In case of a false negative- the algorithm failed to correctly detect that two photos showed the same person.

What is the International experience on FRTs? 

US has taken steps to prevent The Facial Recognition Technology’s weaponization by law enforcement against a section of people.  

    1. Many US cities and states have banned public agencies from using facial recognition and passed legislation to demand more transparency on how police use surveillance tools. 
    2. Microsoft followed Amazon and IBM, have decided to limit the use of its facial-recognition systems and not to sell it to police departments until there is a federal law regulating it.

What is the way forward? 

With so many concerns about facial recognition technology and desperately need a more prominent conversation on its impact on people’s rights and civil liberties. Without proper regulation, such systems of mass surveillance will erode democratic liberties and threaten the rights of lakhs of Indians 

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