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Think tank calls for privacy safeguards on use of facial recognition systems in India

Think tank calls for privacy safeguards on use of facial recognition systems in India

Indian government think tank NITI Aayog (National Institute for Transforming India) is pushing for clarity on safeguards to protect personal data collected from citizens by facial recognition systems, particularly the airport biometrics system Digi Yatra.

The think tank unveiled the draft discussion paper early this month as a follow-up to the National Strategy on Artificial Intelligence (NSAI), released in 2018. The document outlines suggestions on designing and deploying facial recognition in five major use cases, according to a government announcement.

NITI Aayog is again seeking public opinion on the use of facial recognition as part of a series of stakeholder consultations that it launched in 2019 to develop a policy framework. The guidelines would define the responsible use of such AI-based technologies. The deadline for submitting comments on the paper is 30 November.

Some of the considerations for the responsible use of AI set out by NITI Aayog in its draft paper include safety and reliability, inclusivity and non-discrimination, equality, privacy and security, transparency, accountability, protection and the reinforcement of positive human values. Facial recognition is the first use case chosen to test these principles, notes the announcement on government news portal Indiaai.

The think tank also provides specific comments related to Digi Yatra, the airport biometrics system for passenger onboarding that has already been rolled out in some of India’s major airports. NITI Aayog called on the government to spell out details on how passenger information is managed, writes Money Control.

Although the Digi Yatra policy states that a passenger’s biometric information is deleted from the system 24 hours after it has been used, NITI Aayog insists that “the rules related to deletion of other information collected from the passengers, as well as any facial biometrics that are stored in other registries, must be clearly set out in the Policy” and outlined by an ethics committee.

Consent rules for data usage by third parties should also be clarified, and NITI Aayog calls on vendors to ensure that face biometric data used for value-added services are adequately protected.

“This may be achieved by setting out clear licensing requirements between Digi Yatra Foundation and third-party vendors prior to sharing any sensitive personal data,” NITI Aayog suggests.

Another recommendation in the paper is to require proper and regular cybersecurity audits to be carried out on the Digi Yatra facial recognition system. The document highlights the need for compliance with rules on biometric data collection as defined by the Sensitive Personal Data or Information (SPDI) rules under which Digi Yatra operates.

The push for the responsible design and use of AI continues in India as the country has yet to operationalize its personal data protection and privacy legislation. NITI Aayog also approved a new case study on implementing facial recognition in the country last year.

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