The Internet Freedom Foundation, which runs campaigns to defend online freedom and data privacy, said that it has filed six RTI requests this month, pertaining to newly introduced government projects planning the use of 'facial recognition technology'. (File Photo / REUTERS)
The Internet Freedom Foundation, which runs campaigns to defend online freedom and data privacy, said that it has filed six RTI requests this month, pertaining to newly introduced government projects planning the use of 'facial recognition technology'. (File Photo / REUTERS)

RTI filed on government use of 'facial recognition' in airports, Covid-19 vaccination

The IFF is also keeping a close watch on free speech violations, and demanded accountability from the Centre over Twitter removing 50 posts from its platform last month on government requests. Most of these posts were related to the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
By hindustantimes.com | Written by Joydeep Bose
PUBLISHED ON MAY 06, 2021 11:27 AM IST

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a non-governmental organisation advocating for digital liberty, on Wednesday published its monthly Right to Information (RTI) report for April. The group has demanded transparency from various governmental entities regarding the use of 'facial recognition' technology, reportedly in use at various airports across India, and on the government's plans on using such technology for a 'touchless' vaccination process.

Also Read: Why India must resist facial recognition tech | Opinion

The IFF is also keeping a close watch on free speech violations, and demanded accountability from the Centre over Twitter removing 50 posts from its platform last month on government requests. Most of these posts were related to the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the foundation demanded a response from the government over "violations of free speech on the internet."

The foundation, which runs campaigns to defend online freedom and data privacy, said that it has filed six RTI requests this month, pertaining to the newly introduced government projects. "Under IFF’s Project Panoptic, we routinely file RTI requests with various public authorities after we come across news reports that they are developing or using facial recognition technology," the IFF report read.

According to the Internet Freedom Foundation, the RTI requests demanding transparency on the government's use of 'facial recognition' technology relate to five distinct public projects. These are listed as follows:

  1. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on their plans for a ‘touchless’ vaccination process, with Aadhaar-based facial recognition.
  2. The National Health Authority (NHA) on their plans for a ‘touchless’ vaccination process, with Aadhaar-based facial recognition.
  3. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) on their use of facial recognition technology at the Varanasi Airport.
  4. Another RTI request on the AAI on their use of facial recognition technology at the Vijayawada Airport.
  5. Finally, one more RTI requested on the AAI for their use of facial recognition technology at the Pune Airport.

The Hindustan Times earlier reported that work was underway at the Varanasi and Pune airports to install automated passenger-based facial recognition systems, that the government says will ensure "hassle-free movement of travellers from entry to boarding points." The government says walk-through security scanners, once capable of identifying passengers by their faces, will make entry into the airport faster and ensure automated check-ins without the requirement of any paper-based intervention. Details of passengers provided at the time of booking tickets will be examined digitally through their Aadhaar numbers.

In its RTI applications, the Internet Freedom Foundation has demanded to know the specific purposes for which facial recognition technology will be used by the government entities, the legislation which authorises them to do so, and the total expenditure incurred to procure such technology. The IFF has also sought a bunch of other information, including the list of persons authorised to access the technology, the software and hardware being used, and details of the database.

Complete details on the RTI requests can be found here, on the official website of the Internet Freedom Foundation.

Moreover, one more RTI request was also filed with the department of agriculture, cooperation and farmers welfare on the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Microsoft for a pilot project in 100 villages of six states.

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