India aims to build world’s biggest facial recognition system

India is trying to create the largest facial recognition system in the world. The government envisions a future where police officers from 29 states will be able to access a single, centralized database. The details of the project are placed in a detailed 172-page document issued by the National Crime Records Bureau. The document requested bids from companies to build a facial recognition system and interested parties had until October 11 to submit their proposal.

The project, which remains anonymous, will match images from the country’s network of CCTV cameras against a database of mug shots of criminals. It will also match passport photos and images against images collected by agencies such as the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The platform, according to the document, will also allow the search of suspected criminals based on photographs uploaded from newspapers, public or sent by the artist.

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The system will recognize faces on CCTV cameras and will generate an alert if a blacklist match is found. The Indian government proposes to equip security forces with handheld mobile devices to capture a face in the area and quickly search against national databases using a dedicated app. The database is seen to play an important role in identifying criminals, missing persons and bodies. According to CNN, it is not known how many companies have submitted bids to help build India’s facial recognition system.

The pre-bid meeting, which took place at the end of July, is attended by about 80 representatives from the vendors. Apar Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation, NGO, states that in order to be eligible for bidding, a company must complete at least three facial recognition projects globally. “It disqualifies most Indian companies.”

IBN, HP Enterprise and Accenture have reportedly shown interest, Sivaram Krishnan, who led cyberspace at PricewaterhouseCoopers India, told CNN. However, Gupta says that a foreign company installing an important security device could raise “national security issues”.

The Delhi government was accused of awarding a contract to Prama Hikvision, a joint venture of Chinese company Hikvision and Indian company Prama Technologies, which could be a risk for espionage. Ashish P., CEO of Prama Hikvision Dhakan confirmed the supply of more than 1,40,000 CCTV cameras to New Delhi. “There is no evidence anywhere in the world, including India, to state that Hikvision’s products are used for unauthorized collection,” he told CNN.

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In early October, Hikvision inaugurated India’s largest CCTV factory in Mumbai with over 2,000 employees. It has also completed a network of surveillance cameras and command and control centers in Deesa City, Gujarat. The company has come under scrutiny in the United States. It was included in a blacklist of 28 Chinese companies and government offices prohibiting the purchase of American products or the importation of American technology over its alleged role in human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region.

The Government of India aims to complete the project in less than eight months after the signing of the contract. However, experts doubt whether India can execute such an ambitious project in such a short time. “A more realistic time frame would be 12 to 18 months,” says Krishnan, describing the project as “technically challenging.” “The biggest challenge is in the form of the number of security cameras installed in the country.

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According to Comparitech, New Delhi has 10 CCTV cameras per 1,000 people while Shanghai and London have 113 and 68 respectively. In rural areas, this number fell even more, making it difficult to create a single monitoring system. The installation of CCTV cameras has also raised privacy concerns and the lack of data protection legislation has become a concern. Many people see the tools being used for social policing in the country.

There is also concern with the national database linked to Aadhaar, which already covers more than 90 percent of the population. Gupta says the vast CCTV network paired with 1.2 billion Indians covered through Aadhaar could result in a “total, permanent surveillance state”.

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