One year of #ProjectPanoptic

tl;dr

IFF’s Project Panoptic was launched on November 27, 2020 to track and raise public awareness around the rapid proliferation of facial recognition technology (FRT) in India. In this post, we take a look at what we have been able to achieve in the one year since as well as how we aim to take this project forward.

But first, thank you!

Before we go into the details of our actions throughout the course of this past year, we would like to acknowledge the contributions of each and every volunteer who worked on this project with us to make it the success that it is. This includes volunteers from Frappe, DataKind Bangalore as well as other volunteers from the IFF community who were generous with their time and efforts to help the project take form. A special thanks to Shivam Mishra of Frappe who helped us build out the Project Panoptic website.

Actions taken

December, 2020

  1. We analysed multiple replies on our RTI requests related to various FRT projects. (link)

  2. We filed 12 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

January, 2021

  1. We wrote to the CBSE highlighting the various concerns that their use of FRT brings. (link)

  2. We filed 8 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

February, 2021

  1. We wrote to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT to relay our concerns about FRT to them and ask them to call relevant stakeholders such as ministry officials and privacy experts to depose before them. (link)

  2. We filed 9 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

March, 2021

  1. We filed 9 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

April, 2021

  1. We released a joint statement against the use of Aadhaar based FRT for access to vaccines. (link)

  2. We analysed CBSE’s response to our January representation highlighting the various concerns that their use of FRT brings. (link)

  3. We filed 5 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

  4. IFF’s Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency) Anushka Jain wrote in Feminism in India about how the use of FRT by the Police perpetuates patriarchal norms. (link)

  5. IFF’s Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency) Anushka Jain participated in a panel discussion titled, “From New Delhi to New York: The Global State of Local Facial Recognition Regulations”. (link)

May, 2021

  1. We started our series on how different jurisdictions are regulating FRT by taking a look at FRT laws in the US and Europe. (link, link)

  2. We wrote to the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) about the use of FRT in Delhi Govt. schools. (link)

  3. We filed 7 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

June, 2021

  1. We joined a global call to ban biometric surveillance along with Access Now, Amnesty, EDRi, Human Rights Watch and others which was released during the 2021 RightsCon. (link)

  2. We sent a legal notice to the Police Commissioner of Hyderabad asking the Hyderabad Police to cease use of FRT under the garb of COVID-19 measures. (link)

  3. We published the third part of our series on FRT laws around the world which focused on China. (link)

  4. We filed 5 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

  5. IFF’s Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency) Anushka Jain participated in two RightsCon sessions related to FRT. (link)

July, 2021

  1. We looked at how the Police uses FRT and also tried to examine how FRT evidence may be presented and treated in Court. (link)

  2. In response to our RTI application, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare confirmed the use of FRT for verification of beneficiaries of the COVID-19 vaccines but failed to provide any guidelines or SOP that clearly delineates the technical and implementation details of facial recognition technology (FRT) for COVID-19 vaccine verification. We analysed their response. (link)

  3. We filed 7 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

  4. IFF’s Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency) Anushka Jain and Litigation Counsel Tanmay Singh wrote in The Hindu on the need for surveillance reform. (link)

August, 2021

  1. We wrote to the Government of Meghalaya against the use of FRT for verification of pensioner’s identities. (link)

  2. We filed 9 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

  3. IFF’s Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency) Anushka Jain wrote in Forbes India about the rampant and unregulated use of FRT by government agencies. (link)

September, 2021

  1. We filed 9 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

  2. We hosted researchers from the Centre for Internet & Society for a discussion of their paper on FRT in India.(link)

October, 2021

  1. We filed 10 RTI requests to access information on FRT projects being deployed throughout the country. (link)

November, 2021

  1. We partnered with Amnesty and Article 19 to launch the #BanTheScan campaign in Hyderabad. (link)

  2. We analysed the response of the Government of Meghalaya to our legal notice. (link)

  3. IFF’s Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency) Anushka Jain spoke to the Scroll about how FRT may be used to target citizens in Hyderabad. (link)

  4. IFF’s Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency) Anushka Jain wrote in the Indian Express with colleagues from Amnesty about why we should be worried about the model of surveillance emerging in Hyderabad. (link)

  5. IFF’s Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency) Anushka Jain spoke to the Wire about the 360 degree nature of surveillance of citizens emerging in India. (link)

Overall statistics

  1. FRT projects added: 46 (Total: 78)

  2. RTI requests filed: 31 (Total: 62)

Next steps

In the past one year, we have been able to make incremental progress in our primary goal of raising public awareness around the issue of facial recognition, what it is and the rapid pace at which it is being developed & deployed by government agencies in India. Raising public awareness around these projects is imperative because only with transparency around their deployment can we hope for accountability from the agencies which are deploying them. However, in the coming year we hope to take other steps towards accountability by branching out in our approach to tackling these projects.

Firstly, we aim to draft and help make into law a specific legislation which will help regulate the use of this technology by government agencies. While our ideal goal is a complete ban on the use of this technology, we have to be pragmatic in our approach. Since enormous amounts of resources have already been allocated for acquiring this technology, with more tenders being released everyday, it is unlikely that the government will heed our call to ban the use of this harmful technology. Thus, our next best effort will be to ensure that use of this technology is regulated by a strict law that would ensure that use is restricted to only certain scenarios and that oversight mechanisms are in place to protect against misuse.

Secondly, we hope to take meaningful action against any illegal and overbroad violations of our fundamental rights by asking the Courts to intervene in the eventuality that misuse or mass surveillance occurs. At this juncture in the development of this technology it is essential that in addition to strict legislation, precedents are also set to limit the use of this technology, especially by police and law enforcement agencies.

Published By
Anushka Jain

Anushka Jain

Associate Counsel (Surveillance & Transparency), IFF

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