Shri Narendra Modi,
Ld. Prime Minister of India
The Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Office,
Please find enclosed a public petition drawing concern to the large scale deployment of facial recognition technologies (FRT) that put ordinary Indians at risk and constitute a wasteful expense on public funds.
On November 19, 2020 in your address at the Bengaluru Tech Summit 2020, you stated that, "India as a country is uniquely positioned to leap ahead in the information era. We have the best minds as well as the biggest market. Our local tech solutions have the potential to go global. It is time for tech-solutions that are Designed in India but Deployed for the World”. Such potential can only be achieved when technology solutions are centered within their impact on human liberty and welfare. Privacy considerations are vital to user expectations, as environmental standards and emission standards are to automobiles.
Nowhere are these risks more evident than the large scale of deployment of facial recognition technology that is causing certain harm by restricting the liberty and autonomy of millions of Indians. The usage of facial recognition technology is creeping into every facet of our lives. New projects which use facial recognition technology are being developed and deployed by the Central and State governments across the country right now! Through Project Panoptic, we have been tracking more than 30 ongoing government projects, a list which is only increasing. Out of these, 19 projects are being developed and deployed by State-level Police departments and the National Crime Records Bureau for the purpose of security/surveillance.
The deployment of FRT systems today are being done by central and state government entities without any compliance with the basic rights assessment and legal thresholds as set out by the Supreme Court in the Right to Privacy Judgement in 2017.
Use of this technology has raised concerns not only in India but also abroad with various civil society organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Algorithmic Justice League and Amnesty International calling for ban on the use of this technology. Calls for a total ban have been gaining momentum due to the fear that use of facial recognition by the police and security/intelligence agencies will not only lead to violation of the rights to privacy and freedom of speech and expression but also lead to human rights violations by helping to increase systemic bias against already marginalised communities. The impact on marginalised communities gains special importance for us locally due to the wide inequality and diversity present in our society.
Therefore, we, the undersigned, urge you to announce a complete ban on the use of this technology by the government entities, police and other security/intelligence agencies. Further, we urge you to halt all ongoing facial recognition technology projects being developed and deployed at the Central and State level until a legislation with sufficient safeguards that helps protect the privacy of the citizens of India.
We, the people of India, request you to take leadership on this vital issue and safeguard our privacy.