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UIDAI proposes public Aadhaar facial biometrics and temperature checks to boost containment efforts

UIDAI proposes public Aadhaar facial biometrics and temperature checks to boost containment efforts

Officials with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) have suggested that camera networks performing facial recognition and temperature checks in public places could be a game-changer for the country’s coronavirus containment efforts, Outlook India reports, though experts suggest such a system would need to be carefully considered to avoid excessive surveillance or violations of privacy.

The UIDAI currently holds images and contact details for 1.23 billion people, according to the report. This could allow it to identify anyone with a temperature above a certain threshold, and send an alert to local authorities to perform a physical check, and if necessary, put isolation measures in place.

A senior official with the National Informatics Centre, which developed the Aarogya Setu mobile infection alert app told Outlook India on condition of anonymity that drones could also be used to collect biometric data for tracking through Aadhaar.

RealNetworks Country Head Bikas Jha told the publication that systems implementing thermal cameras from China may have high error rates, making them counterproductive.

“In my view, Indian companies should not shy away from taking technological help or forging collaboration with reputed US, EU, Japanese or Korean companies who have excelled in developing such solutions with the high-level of accuracy in temperature measurement and facial recognition,” he adds.

The article acknowledges that the propriety of using Aadhaar data for this purpose is an open question.

Former Additional Solicitor General Sidharth Luthra says that using Aadhaar data to perform state duties was ruled valid by the Supreme Court, so its use in the fight against COVID-19 “is legitimate though it may require the issuance of regulations under the Act.”

The decision blocked private sector uses of Aadhaar, though telecoms have been among companies seeking amendments to the law to allow them to use biometrics for remote identity checks.

Senior Supreme Court Lawyer Sanjay Hegde, who argued for the right to privacy in the high-profile Aadhaar challenge, notes that there is a presumption of privacy rights even in public places, but that an exception could be made under the circumstances.

“While definitely it is a breach of privacy, the question is whether you can make it proportionate,” he advises.

The details matter, however. “It should not result in warrantless surveillance,” Hegde says.

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