Facial recognition system of Tamil Nadu police stirs privacy row

Updated on Dec 10, 2022 04:32 AM IST

According to their website, 126 facial recognition systems have been installed across various states.

Several users pointed out the Orwellian system and asked if this was even legal.
Several users pointed out the Orwellian system and asked if this was even legal.

The facial recognition system which chief minister M K Stalin launched last year for police to identify criminals has stirred a controversy after a Chennai motorist tweeted about being checked at night, sparking concerns over collecting personal data and the right to privacy.

On December 8, a Twitter user, Siddharth, tweeted to the Chennai police and traffic police: “GRIEVANCE. Weird thing happened yesterday when I was returning home, near Thillai Ganga Nagar subway. A couple of cops stopped me, took a pic of my face and simply let me go. When asked why, he simply ignored. What is this new procedure?!”

To this the verified handle of the Greater Chennai Police responded: “Facial recognition system is being used during night hours to verify persons moving around at night hours. This system is useful in identifying the criminals instantaneously. Nothing to worry.”

Several users pointed out the Orwellian system and asked if this was even legal. “We are extremely worried that this is how the Chennai police is using facial recognition technology,” tweeted Project Panoptic, a community project, which tracks India’s facial recognition projects as a system of mass surveillance. “Such use casts a presumption of criminality on the entire population & violates not just the decision of the SC in the Aadhaar judgement but also the right to privacy.”

According to their website, 126 facial recognition systems have been installed across various states.

In January, social activist S Q Masood took the Telangana police to the state’s high court for forcing him to remove his mask in May 2020 and taking his picture without taking consent. Next day, he wrote to the Hyderabad police commissioner asking him the reason why the police had taken his photographs, where they were stored and who would have access to them. When there was no response from the police, Masood sent a legal notice with the help of an NGO, Internet Freedom Foundation, and then filed a public interest litigation. The first bench had sought explanations from the Telangana government and the Hyderabad police commissioner, seeking an explanation from the state and the police over the propriety of the use of technology and whether it infringes on one’s privacy while being in public places.

After Stalin launched this tech in October 2021, a government statement said that the facial recognition software can be used by police officers on patrol or while inspecting vehicles to quickly retrieve the criminal antecedents, if any, of a person. The photo can be compared with lakhs of photos uploaded on the Crime and Criminal Tracking and Network System (CTNS) -- a project under the Union government for creating a comprehensive and integrated system for effective policing through e-governance.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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