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The digital identification parades

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The digital identification parades


The National Crime Records Bureau recently issued a request for proposals for the procurement of an Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS).


  • To “identify criminals, missing persons/children, unidentified dead bodies and unknown traced children/persons”.
  • The AFRS will only be used against the integrated police database in India the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS)
  • The tender explicitly states the integration of several other databases, including the passport database, and the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

How it works:

  • It will be designed to compare images against a watchlist curated using images from other databases.
  • FRT differs from other biometric forms of identification in the degree and pervasiveness of surveillance that it enables.
  • It is designed to operate at a distance, without any knowledge of the targeted individuals.
  • It is far more difficult to prevent an image of one’s face from being captured and allows for the targeting of multiple persons at a time.


  • The integration of diverse databases indicates the lack of a specific purpose, with potential for ad hoc use at later stages.
  • Data sharing arrangements with the vendor are unclear, raising privacy concerns around corporate access to sensitive information of crores of individuals.
  • Even a targeted database like the CCTNS risks over-representation of marginalised communities, as has already been witnessed in other countries.
  • The objective becomes to identify “potential criminals” instead of being “presumed innocent”.
  • The AFRS may allow indiscriminate searching by tapping into publicly and privately installed CCTVs pan-India.
  • The AFRS will allow real-time querying, enabling “continuous” mass surveillance.
  • Moreover, facial recognition technology has not performed well as a crime detection technology.
  • By its very nature, it is a non-consensual and covert surveillance technology.

Way forward:

  • Potential infringements on the right to privacy, a fundamental right, could be enormous as FRT allows for continuous and ongoing identification.
  • The AFRS violates the legal test of proportionality that was articulated in the landmark Puttaswamy judgment, with constant surveillance being used as a strategy for crime detection.
  • Civil liberties such as free speech and the right to assemble peacefully could be implicated as well as dissidents and protests can be targeted.

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