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Home / India News / Railways plans to use face recognition technology to identify criminals

Railways plans to use face recognition technology to identify criminals

The national transporter’s security arm, the Railway Protection Force (RPF), aims to link the facial recognition system (FRS) with existing databases such as the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) to identify criminals who may be prowling railway stations.

india Updated: Nov 11, 2019 07:49 IST
Anisha Dutta
Anisha Dutta
New Delhi
The Indian Railways plan to use FRS for security purposes caused such concerns to resurface.
The Indian Railways plan to use FRS for security purposes caused such concerns to resurface.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
         

Indian Railways is planning a complete overhaul of security at railway stations through the use of facial recognition technology backed by artificial intelligence to identify and nab criminals, a proposal which, one Internet freedom activist warned, could be a violation of individual privacy .

The national transporter’s security arm, the Railway Protection Force (RPF), aims to link the facial recognition system (FRS) with existing databases such as the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) to identify criminals who may be prowling railway stations.

“ CCTNS is the criminal database of Indian security agencies and we are planning to connect {it} with our FRS database through a bridge software,” an RPF official said on condition of anonymity. “With this we will have access to a huge database of criminals and our FRS software can easily be used to fetch the photos [of potential criminals] and match the faces. If we are able to install this across all our major stations, it will be a huge security breakthrough. This is something called preventive policing.”

RPF drafted a comprehensive, integrated security plan after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai carried out by 10 Pakistan-based terrorists whose targets included the city’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, RPF’s director general Arun Kumar said. It identified 200 railway stations for a “security overhaul”.

“We, as a proof of concept, began working with facial recognition technology at the Bangalore station and plan to implement it slowly across our entire network,” Kumar said.

Facial recognition technology was launched at the Bengaluru airport in July, and tested in the Hyderabad airport, stoking fears among human rights groups and Internet advocates of potential privacy violations and increased surveillance, Reuters reported. The technology identifies passengers by their face, doing away with the need for boarding passes and other identity documents.

The Indian Railways plan to use FRS for security purposes caused such concerns to resurface.

“For now this is completely illegal as there is no legal authority or framework for any such projects which are being tested as well as already deployed in India. Such a legislative framework is absolutely necessary as per the Supreme Court’s right to privacy judgment. Even certain airports which are testing and have deployed facial recognition software under specific rules of the airports authority of India Act lack legislative framework and are hence questionable,” said Apar Gupta, executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, a non-government organisation that works for online freedom.

India does not yet have a privacy protection law in place.

Indian Railways carries millions of passengers daily on long-distance routes and suburban city networks, and facilities like train stations are especially vulnerable to criminals, said the official cited above.

“Millions of people travel in trains daily, making it a very high-tension area for crimes, human trafficking and terrorism. We have implemented FRS at such areas. FRS can identify single faces out of tens of thousands. A unique biometric code is made for each face captured, augmented by artificial intelligence. It can be compared to other biometrics such as fingerprints and eye iris recognition systems,” the official said.

“The accuracy of FRS is widely adopted and is also a contactless non-invasive process. For the first time, a proof of concept was successful after five months of testing in railways by RPF in Bangalore; more than 200,000 passengers were covered and our algorithm could match 32 history-sheeters against the RPF database. People wearing hood, sunglasses etc at rush hour were easily identifiable with artificial intelligence tech,” the official added.

RPF aims to expand the use of the facial recognition technology to bigger metro cities like New Delhi and Mumbai.

“Once Bengaluru station is covered, we will then move to other nearby stations including Yeshwanthpur. We will then move to metros like Delhi and Mumbai and we will install the system on long-distance routes. Followed by this, we will focus on suburban rail network in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai,” the official said.

The railways began experimenting with the technology, as a concept, about six years ago.The technology then was not found suitable for use Indian railway stations and had to be retailored for local conditions, officials said.

“As a concept, it came 6-7 years back and was being used in many foreign countries also. However, we realised we can’t get the same system here and use it here. When we did, there were many false alarms and substantial delays in matching [faces]. Also, their systems were not used to the same throughput at stations as ours. To fine-tune that for Indian conditions was very important,”the official cited above said .

“... ultimately it was decided it had to be altered as per Indian conditions. On an average that system is learning about 1 lakh faces daily. The AI system keeps upgrading itself. The more you experiment the more it learns and grows. If you focus on a lot of stations at once the actual implementation suffers which is why we have been experimenting on the Bangalore station over the past five months and we have been able to fine-tune that system quite well.”

Even if a photograph on the crime database is 10 years old, the system can identify the perpetrator of the crime can be identified by the FRS if he/she enters a railway station now, he added.

Indian Railways also aims to impart skill training to RPF personnel for behavioural profiling at train stations.

“We have begun training {personnel} for behaviour profiling but it requires a lot manpower and training. We are imparting skills on spotting suspicious people; for example, people looking visibly worried or someone travelling long distances without luggage. Such suspects are being monitored,” the official said.

In its effort to enhance security this year, RPF also formed its own commando unit, which will be known as Commandos for Railway Safety (CORAS), who have been deployed along areas affected by left-wing extremism and in Jammu & Kashmir.