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India set to stand up world’s largest government facial recognition database for police use

India set to stand up world’s largest government facial recognition database for police use

India’s central government approved the deployment of its Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) across the nation beginning early next year, allowing facial biometrics to be extracted from video and CCTV which will be matched with the image of individuals whose photos and identity information are already housed in a database maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau (NRCB) under the purview of the Minister of State for Home Affairs (MHA).

It will be the world’s largest government-operated facial recognition system, having been estimated to be able to handle 2,500 users at any given time.

MHA chief G. Kishan Reddy told the Indian Parliament that the authorization to employ the AFRS will greatly enhance law enforcement in the country, reports the Sunday Guardian Live.

The 172-page Request for Proposal (RPF) released by the NCRB in August stated the Automated Facial Recognition System will provide a vital and necessary role in improving criminal identification and verification by way of the system’s rapid recording, processing, analysis, retrieval, and sharing of biometric identity information between different law enforcement and presumably, India’s intelligence services.

“The Automated Facial Recognition System would help in automatic identification and verification of persons from digital images, photos, digital sketches, video frames, and video sources by comparison of selected facial features of the image from an already existing image database,” NCRB said, noting that “a facial recognition system is a great investigation enhancer for identification of criminals, missing children/persons, unidentified dead bodies and unknown traced children/persons.”

NCRB has stressed that the advantage of the AFRS is that photographs of criminals will provide state police, law enforcement, and other central government agencies greater capability to identify patterns of crime and criminal activity – including organized crime activity – and to better be able to understand criminal patterns and criminal operations and activities.

Police will be able to identify photos of suspects against images in the AFRS database directly from their mobile phones within just minutes, NRCB said.

“This is an effort in the direction of modernizing the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification, and its dissemination among various police organizations and units across the country,” NCRB wrote in the RFP, emphasizing that it will provide “a robust system for identifying criminals, missing children/persons, unidentified dead bodies, and unknown traced children/persons all across the country.”

In addition, photographs from newspapers, police raids, pictures sent to police, and suspect sketches will also be entered into the biometric database, along with known details including age, gender, scars, and tattoos. The system will also be able to will be able to recognize a person “regardless of vantage point and facial changes (glasses, beard, and expression),” the agency said.

“It will be able to search photographs from the database, matching with the suspect features. It will be able to ‘lift’ photograph images available with Passport, CCTNS, ICJS and Prisons, Ministry of women and child development, state or National Automated Fingerprint Identification System or any other image database available with police/other entity,” NRCB said.

“It will be of a great help in a riot like situation to identify rioters and those who are in the mob. Once CCTV records their faces, the images from the video will be uploaded to the AFRS and within minutes it will be able to identify the suspect, as it will match the image from the multiple database it already has access to,” an official was quoted as saying by the Sunday Guardian Live.

NCRB said AFRS will automate the matching of suspects using law enforcement records presently accomplished by hand. “AFRS automates this matching process and provides a bigger set for comparison, as it will run on state/nation level CCTNS/ICJS database. AFRS results will be further corroborated and analyzed by collecting other evidence by IO before drawing any conclusion. The AFRS will not source facial images from CCTV cameras in public places, unless the video footage is part of scene of crime,” the agency said.

NCRB tried to qualm concerns by assuring that AFRS will not be integrated into the Aadhaar database, and that it will not be used in a manner that constitutes what it calls “discrimination profiling.”

The tender deadline was pushed back for a sixth time to March 27 in January.

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