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Are Indian police using facial recognition to identify protesting farmers?

Are Indian police using facial recognition to identify protesting farmers?

Police in Ambala, in India’s state of Haryana have announced that they have begun the process to cancel passports and visas against those caught causing disturbances or breaking barricades on CCTV or drone cameras during the farmers’ protests in early February. The move comes on the heels of proposals by police in other countries around the world, including Sweden and the UK, to run facial recognition searches against passport databases, rather than arrest or conviction records.

Ambala Deputy Superintendent of Police Joginder Singh told The Indian Express that not all protest participants were involved in the disturbances. The police say action is being taken against those who traveled from Punjab to Haryana and caused disturbances during the protests.

Singh says police are initiating the cancellation process by contacting the passport authorities and relevant embassies and by accessing the individuals’ photos and residential details.  With the Aadhaar database off-limits to law enforcement, it appears likely that police have accessed India’s passport database to facial recognition.

Haryana farmer unions’ leaders say police have put notices on their houses and that property damage caused by the protests will be compensated by seizing famers’ properties and freezing their assets. Sources say the notices were placed on farmers’ houses on February 22nd.

The government also suspended mobile internet in Ambala, Panjokhera and Naggal from February 28 to 29 “to stop the spread of misinformation and rumors through various social media platforms” and SMS for which could mobilize “mobs of agitators” whose “violent activities” such as arson and vandalism can result in “loss of life and damage to public and private properties,” an official order read.

A statement from the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) expressed concern over the “police’s unchecked use of surveillance technologies to crack down on dissent and free speech” in a statement on February 29, further noting it is unclear whether or not drones have facial recognition capabilities in them and calling police’s cancellation of visas and passports an “extreme act.”

Efforts to expand public surveillance in Haryana and Odisha have been underway for years. The city of Gurugram, for instance, set out to install an additional 1,000 surveillance cameras to the network of 1,200 existing cameras in 2022.

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