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Ugandan police accused of using facial recognition system to fuel rights abuses

Public biometric surveillance systems in India and France scrutinized


The police in the east African nation of Uganda have been faulted for using a facial recognition system deployed in the country by Chinese technology giant Huawei to track, arrest and torture anti-government protesters.

There have been a wave of street demonstrations in the country lately as some Ugandans protest the decision by incumbent President Yoweri Museveni to seek another term in office, and security forces are said to be using surveillance cameras with biometrics to track and arrest the protesters, according to a report by Quartz Africa.

The report quotes the police as having confirmed that they used images from the surveillance system in tracking down more than 836 persons suspected to be involved in recent anti-government protests which took place on November 18 and 19.

More than 50 persons are said to have been killed in the two-day protests which were sparked by the arrest of two popular politicians lining up to challenge President Museveni, who is vying for a record sixth term.

Quartz Africa recalled that an alarm had earlier been raised by local politicians and rights advocates about possible rights abuses and privacy invasions with the use of the video surveillance system after it was acquired from Huawei last year, with the Ugandan police confirming the payment of about $126 million as just part of the deal.

Critics argue that the system is unregulated and is marked by arbitrary location monitoring, while making use of facial recognition and biometric identification technologies, according to Quartz Africa.

The report cited President Museveni as praising the effectiveness of the CCTV system which has 83 monitoring centers, 522 operators and 50 commanders deployed in 2,319 municipalities and major towns of the country. It quoted an anonymous sources as stating that plans were afoot for the installation of an “integrated” surveillance system that will keep watch over all major towns and cities of the country.

Increasing facial recognition tech use in India prompts privacy debates

In India, the massive and increasing deployment of facial recognition technologies by institutions across states is raising concerns about freedom of speech and issues related to privacy of personal data, Times of India reports.

It reported recently that such concerns are gaining steam as some 32 facial recognition systems are at different levels of deployment by union ministries, central agencies, and state governments such as Telangana and Gujarat.

This revelation, the report adds, is the result of a study dubbed Project Panoptic carried out by digital rights advocacy group, Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), which explained how the facial recognition systems being deployed actually work. The 32 projects have a combined cost of Rs 10.63 billion (approximately US$143.6 million), according to the IFF.

Times of India quoted a lawyer and researcher as arguing that the new technologies being deployed make use of huge amounts of personal data and biometric information, and that their existence is at variance with the privacy of users.

The report also talks about the giant facial recognition technology project which is being conceived by India’s National Crime Record Bureau, with the aim of keeping a large database of photos and videos of faces which can be matched in the process of identifying crime suspects in real-time.

Facial recognition technology has been trialed before in other areas of activity in some Indian states such as in handling election issues and biometric attendance systems in schools.

Proposals for better facial recognition technology use in France

A white paper on internal security has made recommendations on how facial recognition technology can be better deployed in France without infringing on individual privacy rights and freedoms.

The comprehensive document which is published on the French Interior Ministry website assembles the views of several stakeholders involved in internal security issues, and chronicles about 200 proposals on various subjects including the use of facial recognition technology by public authorities in France.

The white paper recommends, among other things, that France must consolidate the forensics use of facial recognition technology as a tool for identifying suspects within the context of criminal investigations. The document also maintains that forensics will be the only field in which facial recognition technology will be “the most immediately exploitable for internal security services,” as translated by AI-Regulation.com.

Additionally, the guide proposes experimentation with facial recognition systems in public spaces in order to test out the technology technically, operationally, and legally, as well as to ensure that the French people are protected. It suggests though that such experimentation should be gradual and may, with time, be extended to non-state actors for limited tracking purposes.

Apart from proposals on the use of facial recognition technology, the white paper released on November 16, which is a follow-up to the last one published in 2011, also advises on some other issues related to artificial intelligence.

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