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India pols, privacy advocates bicker over face biometrics legality

India pols, privacy advocates bicker over face biometrics legality

An argument in rural India over government use of facial recognition shows no sign of resolution.

If anything, the battle between privacy advocates and leaders of an agrarian state shows that someone is ignorant or dismissive of Indian constitutional law. The issue was first reported by MediaNama (subscription required).

The government of Meghalaya, in extreme northeastern India, this summer said it would use a mobile face biometrics app as part of a voluntary program to verify the identities of pensioners who need a so-called digital life certificate.

The document provides proof of ID, that the holder is alive and is entitled to government services. Elders would no longer need to travel to government offices to confirm the information, according to the government.

Advocacy group the Internet Freedom Foundation has charged the government is not properly protecting the privacy rights of those using the certificate. There is no evidence that the state is or will “follow the principles of lawfulness, fairness, and transparency,” according to the foundation.

The group also says there is no evident plan for data minimization or limits on purpose, collection, storage and retention.

Summarizing the foundation’s objections, state leaders dismiss any responsibility for data collected.

The government has said it does not need anchoring legislation to operate the program, something the Internet Freedom Foundation says is not true. Also, the digital life certificate program is voluntary, “thereby meeting the test of proportionality,” another point that the foundation rejects.

And while state leaders say they are “competent” to handle large biometric-data operations, foundation members say there is no reason to think it can keep the data anymore securely than all the other private and public organizations that have been hacked.

The opposing opinions go on and get into the constitutional weeds, which leave the dispute unresolved for some time.

It could well be the case that state leaders are unconcerned with opposition. The national government has continued with many digital ID projects while facing headwinds, including a health-record program that has generated controversy and a test of mobile voting.

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