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Questions raised over facial recognition use in Indian prisons

Questions raised over facial recognition use in Indian prisons

Government agencies in India have been providing contradictory information on the introduction of facial recognition use in prisons amid rising scrutiny against the technology.

In March, the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) listed the ePrison project, created to digitize the country’s prison system, as one of the use cases for facial recognition technology. The information was provided in response to a question from India’s parliament. This week, however, the local National Informatics Centre (NIC) denied the technology is currently used for the ePrison project, according to a report from Medianama.

The National Informatics Centre provides technology infrastructure for government projects.

Questions over India’s use of facial recognition are coming after a backlash against last year’s introduction of the new Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill. The legislation gives police officers the power to collect biometric information of convicts and even criminal suspects.

India has also been launching tenders for facial recognition CCTV cameras in its prisons, including a $4.2 million project in Delhi.

According to the information provided by the IT Ministry, the NIC uses the AI Satyapikaanan Application Programming Interface (API) for facial recognition. The face verification and liveness detection service has also been used in other eGovernance applications: Regional Transport Offices (RTO) use it to allow applying for a driving license from home while the Indian Ministry of Minority Affairs uses it to check attendance for skill development trainees.

AI Satyapikaan is accessed through the government’s Meghraj cloud service.

Biometrics introduced for prison payments, restricted movement

Prisons across India have been busy introducing new biometric applications as part of the ongoing push to modernize the country’s prison system.

In the Eastern Indian state of Odisha, seven prisons including the one in the capital of Bhubaneswar will introduce a new biometric fingerprint system, allowing prisoners to make purchases in canteens without paying cash. Family members will be able to transfer the money directly into their bank accounts, The New Indian Express reports.

As part of the project, prisons will also receive turnstile gates equipped with biometric identification capabilities so that inmates lodged in a particular ward would not be able to enter other cells. The prisons directorate is also planning to install a video call system in the jails with biometric fingerprinting that enable inmates to make calls to two pre-loaded telephone numbers. Jail managers will have access to a common dashboard providing instant links to the criminal case and medical history of inmates.

Odisha has been allocated 17 million Indian rupees (approximately US$207,800) for the prison modernization project from 2021 to 2026.

Aside from upgrades, India is also seeing an expansion of prison capacity. In the state of Punjab, a new high-security jail for suspected terrorists and gangsters will be built featuring a biometric locking system for staff movement, the latest CCTV equipment, and mobile jammers.

The project is worth 1 billion rupees ($12.2 million) while similar high-security jails are being proposed in six states across the country, according to unnamed sources quoted by East Coast Daily.

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