Digi Yatra a fancy term for journeys undertaken at airports will now deploy facial recognition technology at checkpoints such as Entry check points, Entry in to security check and aircraft boarding. The service will further facilitate self bag-drop and check-in using facial technology to identify pax and data recall. The goal of such a service is to aid hassle-free paperless travel to the passengers and avoid the trouble of multiple checkpoints. This will considerably impact the long queues and minimum human intervention such as the deployment of security guards at the entry gates of airports. As the national portal of India points out, Digi Yatra is built on four key pillars: Connected passengers, Connected airports, Connected flying and Connected systems. The portal points out the advantages of such a service stating that passengers can plan their travel by comparing the price estimates and estimate future trends, link their aadhar to airlines and other ecosystem players at the time of booking to ensure faster airport entry, walk through security scanners swiftly owing to advanced biometric technology, receive information related to facilities, protocols, airline timings, and queue lengths at the airports, engage in customised digital offerings at experience zones, real time notifications about congestion and delays, navigating through airport using digital guidance systems, interactive kiosks, and get a prompt when the language reaches the baggage belt.

All these benefits and the service has already started seeing the light of the day in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Vijayawada and Pune. The Digi Central platform was supposed to start by end of February 2019. The project is a result of partnership between Lufthansa, Miami International Airport, the US Customs and Border Protection, and aviation IT provider SITA (Maneesh Jaikrishna, Vice-President-Indian Subcontinent, Eastern and Southern Africa), enabling confirmation of passengers’ identities using a photograph taken at the boarding gate. As reported in BusinessLine, “SITA’s Smart Path technology integrates with government systems and databases to authenticate passengers during airport check-ins and border checks”.

Another new innovation in the field of facial recognition is the new ‘automated facial recognition system’ (AFRS) system to match images and photos of criminals. The system has been proposed installation of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) to identify criminals, missing children, and persons and unidentified bodies. The system shall also be used by the police department in matching suspects with criminals to their hotlist. According to this Times of India report, “AFRS is intended to zero in on images or videos related to a crime or mob violence and compare select pictures with an existing image database”. The report further elaborates that “AFRS solution will be web-based application hosted at the NCRB data centre in Delhi, with connectivity to police stations through the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS)”. The system offers logical algorithms and user-friendly, simple graphical user interface making the image matching easier. The CCTV technology can be utilized to capture faces and CCTNS can alert the 2 police if a doubtful face/blacklist is identified. The system has concerned many cyber experts especially considering its repercussions on privacy of citizens as it can also “match a suspect or criminal’s photograph with a database created images available with passport”. Although the system is yet to be implemented after the bidding process, the system will be able to identify individual faces of by extracting contours, features, and other prominent points. Also, it would be able to match facial images with change in facial expression, direction, angle, lighting, age, hairstyle, beard, glasses, scars, marks and tattoos.

Ramifications of Facial Technology

The rise of techniques such as facial recognition, behaviour analysis, and video surveillance are some of the ways in which state will attempt to keep an eye on its citizens. Today, the big data companies in close alliance with state are making decisions on behalf of citizenry — which involves analysing social media content like hate speech, using tools such as facial recognition for non-criminal purposes as well. The technology can further pave way for the police to suspicious of individuals without any concrete evidence. Usha Ramathan, a legal expert and human rights advocate has pointed out that facial recognition, iris scan and fingerprint recognition are becoming markers of identity. This means that our bodies will increasingly become a marker of our identities, thus having a determinative ability.

The vulnerabilities in the context of such technology become risky especially when widespread use of facial technology by law enforcement officials such as Punjab Artificial Intelligence System and private companies like Paytm use such methods without any legislation to regulate its implementation.

Looking at these flipsides in the light of India’s casteist society, it would easier for police authorities to single out individuals based on their caste and profile them as criminals.

While on the one hand, it is imperative to update ourselves with the advancements in technology, however, it will be completely anti-citizen policy to execute such measures without a relevant regulatory framework. It is important to mention here that there are countries which have adopted this technology to keep an eye on the oppressed groups. For instance, in China facial technology is being deployed to keep a tab on the oppressed Muslim Uighur population. In a context of highly differentiated society on account of religion, caste, culture, it becomes even more necessary for tech companies to emphasize for a regulatory framework. As India moves closer to have a biometric base for unique identification of its citizens, it is paramount to have a legal framework that preserves right to privacy which is nothing put preserving right to life under article 21 of the Indian constitution.

This piece is written by Manisha Chachra. Manisha is Associate Researcher at Govern.

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