National Highway Authority of India
In March, 2021, we came across reports stating that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is looking to deploy Artificial Intelligence based Facial Recognition Technology systems to monitor the attendance of their personnel at different project sites. These reports were accompanied by a press release by the NHAI which justified the deployment of FRT on the grounds of enhancing transparency and accountability.
Who will this affect ?
The proposed AI based FRT system is applicable to all key personnels of the NHAI including engineers employed by the Authority, the independent engineers, consultants and officers. As per an interview of the Chairman of NHAI, SS Sandhu, the NHAI has a strength of about 900 employees whom the FRT system is likely to affect.
Scope of the Project
To track the presence of the employees at their field locations, the proposed system requires the employees to log into their Attendance Monitoring System mobile applications. This is because installing biometric machines at project locations will prove to be difficult logistically. Further, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, surface contact through finger-touch authentication must be avoided. The application is likely to capture data pertaining to the employee details, date, time and location of the employees when they login for the day. The data collected through this system would be linked to NHAI’s unique cloud platform, Data Lake. The proposed system would be implemented through mobile application and will be relevant to all employees of the NHAI.
We filed a RTI application with the NHAI to understand whether the new system, while deploying FRT, also includes the necessary safeguards to any potential breach of the staff’s right to privacy.
We filed an RTI with the National Highway Authorities of India dated May 30, 2021, requesting information on the following, among other queries:
The legislation or rule which authorizes the NHAI to use facial recognition technology.
Whether any legal opinion was taken prior to the procurement of facial recognition technology.
The guidelines, policies, or standard operating procedure governing the use of such technology.
The specific purposes for which FRT is being used.
Details of the software and hardware being used for this FRT.
An exhaustive list of databases with which the FRT will be linked in order to identify individuals.
Information on the accuracy of the FRT being used.
In its response to our RTI application, NHAI stated that the use of FRT was solely for the internal purpose of “monitoring manpower” but failed to provide any legislation which warranted the use of FRT for such purposes.
While we appreciate NHAI responding to our RTI application, we were disappointed to note that most of the responses were elusive and misleading. The response failed to address the questions regarding the SOP and guidelines being followed and averted the query by suggesting that the applicant visit the NHAI headquarters to access the information sought.
Further, NHAI failed to provide vital information regarding the project such as the linking of the AI based FRT systems with the Data Lake project as well as related to the expenditure incurred on this project, the authorities who would have access to the data collected or an exhaustive breakdown of the types of personal information of the staff that would be collected and stored under this system.