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India launches biometric tracking measures as Canada, US delay data collection to prevent virus spread


FaceTec biometric authentication implemented by leading dating app maker to stop bots and catfishing

Governments around the world are responding to the continuing coronavirus outbreak, in some cases by implementing biometric tracking measures, and in others by limiting biometrics collection and changing procedures to reduce further spread.

Authorities in India are using biometrics among a range of surveillance technologies, along with mobile apps and CCTV systems, to enforce quarantines in a wave of tools referred to by the Economic Times as “Covtech.”

“Virus detectives” in Kerala are using CCTV footage to help track the movement of patients testing positive for the coronavirus, while in Karnataka and Telangana, municipalities have launched or are developing smartphone apps to ensure compliance with quarantine orders. In Karnataka, an app is about to launch which people in home quarantine will use to upload a selfie every half-hour. The selfie is verified, though the article does not explicitly say that facial biometrics are involved.

The Telangana app automatically turns on device location, and requires people to periodically fill out a form and attach a selfie for submission. The selfie is tested for liveness, according to the report. Bengaluru also uses an app with a selfie to track individuals for COVID-19 spread prevention.

Meanwhile in Pune, an app developed by Vijña Labs, a division of Manipal Group, with biometric facial recognition has been launched to track individuals quarantined at home, the Times of India reports. The app uses geo location tracking and requests selfies from people in quarantine to ensure they have not simply gone out without their mobile device. If the face or location data does not match the database record, an alert is immediately sent to authorities for investigation and enforcement action.

A representative of the company told the TOI that the app is designed to be user friendly, and Pune Police have found it effective.

Other technologies deployed around the country include an automated, interactive voice response system to make daily calls to people quarantined at home, and automated number plate recognition (ANPR).

The proliferation of all of this tracking technology carries its own risk, however, some say.

“Even beyond concerns of privacy which will involve people sending their facial pictures, this includes detailed biometric such as iris scans, facial features,” says Internet Freedom Foundation Executive Director Apar Gupta. “It is the mere coercive action by itself that is incredibly shocking. Requiring people to take selfies and upload it without having not only data protection, but also legal framework, shows a shocking excess of state powers.”

U.S. agencies can delay fingerprinting

The U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has left whether to continue mandatory fingerprint collection from federal employees and contractors up to the discretion of agencies, FEDweek reports.

The biometric criminal history checks are posing a challenge to some agencies due to the closure of many offices, according to an OPM memo, so while those agencies able to continue the process should do so, others may delay the checks, based on a determination of risk.

“Agencies will delay reporting the final adjudication of the background investigation until a fingerprint check has been completed and considered in the adjudication. Existing mechanisms for measuring the timeliness of adjudication compliance will continue; however, agencies will not be held accountable for adjudication reporting timeliness during the period this guidance is in effect,” the memo states.

In-person identity proofing requirements may likewise be replaced with a virtual meeting.

The measures are considered temporary, but no expiry has been specified.

Canada extends biometrics submission period for visas

People applying for entry into Canada now have 90 days instead of 30 from the date specified on their biometrics instruction letter (BIL) to submit their biometric data, according to an update on a government website. Further, applicants unable to provide their biometrics during the specified period will not have their application refused or closed for that reason.

Service Canada offices where biometric data collection usually occurs have cancelled all biometrics appointments and are not accepting walk-ins, and biometrics collection services at Canadian ports of entry and other locations are also temporarily suspended.

The same BIL can be used to make a new appointment once the service reopens.

For people outside of the country, the visa application center their appointments are with will inform them of appointment cancellations, though U.S. Application Support Centers are closed until further notice.

Moscow cracks down

A new decree has been signed by Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin, putting new rules for movement into place and promising enforcement with “a smart system of monitoring,” according to Sobyanin’s official blog.

People are expected to leave only to shop at the nearest store or pharmacy, walk pets within 100 meters of home, respond to medical emergencies, attend work if necessary, and take out garbage.

The “smart system of monitoring” presumably includes the massive CCTV network with live facial recognition which Reuters has previously reported is in use to monitor quarantine compliance in the city.

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