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Indian biometric counterterrorism database passes 1B entries

Indian biometric counterterrorism database passes 1B entries

The National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) is a counterterrorism and counter-radicalization division operating under the Government of India. As part of its ongoing efforts to enhance national security, NATGRID has successfully created a comprehensive database consisting of over a billion facial images that can be used for biometric identification, News18 reports.

If every entry is unique, this database would account for approximately 80 percent of the country’s population. It has the potential to serve as an effective tool for tracking illicit activities and locating individuals sought by law enforcement, officials told the outlet.

The Union Government of India started the NATGRID initiative under the UPA leadership in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack in 2008. This effort aims to develop a national database for monitoring a wide range of illicit activities, including Hawala transactions, terrorist financing, counterfeit currency circulation, and other related activities.

The National Intelligence Grid has been able to collect and analyze facial data of individuals in India. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the collection of facial images became even more challenging because of the widespread use of masks.

Despite this challenge, the system’s ability to recognize individuals even when wearing masks is enhanced by its advanced facial recognition technology, officials say, which matches various facial features, such as eyes and the upper part of the nose, against a vast database.

NATGRID has been successful in integrating data from multiple government departments, including the National Crime Records Bureau, the Income Tax Department, police agencies, and airport operations.

Law enforcement agencies will experience a significant decrease in the time required to identify suspects or track individuals of interest, resulting in effective operations. This move towards targeted intelligence gathering, leverages analysis techniques to identify specific threats. By adopting this focused approach, agencies can better allocate their resources to invest in high-priority threats.

The records collected by NATGRID will be shared with 11 central government agencies, along with police in all Indian states and union territories for real-time access to the information, according to News18. The integration is being carried out with technical assistance from C-DAC Pune and management consultation by IIT-Bhilai.

In the interim budget of 2024, the Union Government has increased the budget allocation for the NATGRID program from 960 million Indian rupees (roughly US$11.54 million) in the previous year to Rs 2 billion ($24.03 million) for 2023-24 to enhance facial recognition technology, expand the database, and improve the integration with various government departments.

One key reason for this increment in the budget allocation could be the terror-free states and the decline in militancy in various parts of India. These measures focus on technological advancements in biometric applications in law enforcement agencies.

Even with the latest security measures, it is important to acknowledge the privacy and ethical considerations associated with large-scale data collection and surveillance practices.

The IFF raised concerns in 2021 about the potential repercussions of implementing Chinese facial recognition technology in India, given the lack of robust data protection regulations.

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One Reply to “Indian biometric counterterrorism database passes 1B entries”

  1. You have to be concerned when there are nearly 1 Billion faces in a anti-terrorist database. Even from a privacy perspective of Indian citizens. Where were their face biometrics captured for enrollment? I guarantee they were not told that their face biometrics were going into a terrorist database. Similarly for all international travellers through India’s airports. The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack used as justification for this database was carried out by militant islamists from Pakistan, not residents of India, and yet 1 billion law abiding citizens are now enrolled in an anti-terrorist database? Searching a 1 billion record database won’t give them anywhere near near time results even if they are using the C-DAC computing centre.

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