Biometric facial recognition contracts from Indian government for police and railways face eligibility questions

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Only independent companies and joint ventures will be able to bid on India’s Automated Facial Recognition System, not consortiums, companies were told during a meeting of potential bidders for the major government contract reported by MediaNama. This restriction may prevent local vendor Vara Technology and EY from bidding on the contract.

Question were asked of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) about the revised tender it has issued by bidders including Indian state-owned Becil, Idemia, Tech5, Thales, AnyVision and NEC. The tender document says the surveillance tool will neither involve deploying new CCTV cameras or connecting to existing CCTV installations. CCTNS Joint Director Sanjay Mathur says a query about the restriction on consortiums can be submitted, but the decision was made by the government’s Home Ministry, with input from its financial division.

Bidders asked about the image quality standards of the database of 15 million facial photos which the surveillance system will be used to locate.

The biometrics companies and integrators were told the system will be used by 16,000 police stations, 7,000 agency offices, and through a mobile app. Some 80,000 total users are imagined, and support for a workload of up to 2,500 simultaneous requests is required. Some companies objected to the use of NIST FRVT results to evaluate accuracy, as some Indian companies have not participated in the international test. Another in contrast asked for only recent NIST evaluations to be considered.

The government representatives also suggested that the system may be altered to communicate with systems in other jurisdictions in the future, and explained the testing around plastic surgery. The target dataset will include missing children in addition to criminal suspects, and will follow ISO standards as required by India’s e-government system.

Bids for the AFRS’ development are due by August 6, after being delayed eight times.

The new AFRS may not involve a CCTV network, but Indian Railways’ telecom arm RailTel is considering Chinese companies among contenders for its proposed facial recognition-enabled camera system amid increasing tensions between the neighbouring giants.

A border dispute resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers in June, and India’s national rail operator subsequently cancelled a signals and telecommunication contract and a thermal screening system tender with Chinese companies. When the RailTel CCTV and facial recognition tender was re-floated just over a year ago, there were reported to be eight or nine bids, several of which involve Chinese-made cameras, according to NewsClick.

A technical evaluation of the shortlisted companies is now underway, and a RailTel representative said the government’s ‘Make in India’ criteria will be applied to the bid process.

The project entails installation of cameras at thousands of stations and in thousands of coaches, and has a value of Rs 10 billion (roughly US$132.8 million).

The tender was originally announced in 2018, and has been delayed four times already. CCTV systems have already been installed in 50 major rail stations in India.

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