India is planning to set up one of the world’s largest facial recognition systems. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will make an effort next month to build a system to centralize facial recognition data captured through surveillance cameras across India.

It would link up with databases containing records for everything from passports to fingerprints to help India’s police force identify criminals, missing persons and dead bodies.

The government says this initiative is taken to help one of the world’s most understaffed police forces, which has one officer for every 724 citizens.:TechSci Research estimates India’s facial recognition market will grow by 2024 to $4.3 billion, nearly on par with China.

But the project is also ringing alarm bells in a nation with no data privacy laws and a government that just shut down the internet for the last seven weeks in Kashmir to prevent uneasiness in the atmosphere.

While India is still far from implementing a system that matches China’s ability to use technology to control the population, the lack of proper safeguards.

A draft data protection bill presented to the government last year still hasn’t been approved by the cabinet or introduced into parliament. The country already had problems implementing Aadhaar, one of the world’s biggest biometric databases linking everything from bank accounts to income tax filings, which been troubled by reports of data leaks and the growth of a black market for personal information.

In the police force, the system will be an essential tool to fight crime if implemented properly. India has seen more than 100 terrorist attacks in the last three decades, including one on luxury hotels and a train station in Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.

“A system that can identify criminals is invaluable, facial recognition is a powerful tool,” said Kishore, who is now deputy inspector general of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. “But human intentions are also very important. You can make the best of technology, but if human intentions are wrong it can be a tool for misuse.”

In January, the Delhi High Court said it was unacceptable that facial recognition had not helped trace any of the 5,000 children missing from the city in three years. Earlier this month, photos and phone numbers from a Madurai city police facial recognition database in Tamil Nadu were leaked online.

Foreign surveillance companies operating in India include CP Plus, Dahua, Panasonic Corp., Bosch Security Systems, Honeywell International Inc., and D-Link India Ltd.

According to Atul Rai, chief executive officer of Staqu Technologies, Many Indian companies won’t be able to have command on the facial-recognition system because the current tender requires them to meet standards established by the U.S. National Institute of Science and Technology.

Rai, whose company has developed facial recognition for eight local police forces, said India doesn’t have the same quality cameras as China,  making it harder to meet the goal of being able to identify any person with an integrated system. He also said it would be more difficult to implement a national network in India because state governments are responsible for law and order under its constitution.

“But if this one happens in line with the government’s plan, it should be a China-like system,” Rai said. “Any powerful country wants to be like China when it comes to using technology to monitor people, even western countries.”


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