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USA May Go the Opposite Way of China on Facial Recognition: Where Does India Stand?

With Black Lives Matter protests hitting the streets in USA in light of George Floyd’s murder, questions regarding the use of facial recognition by police departments to identify protestors came to light. This follows a known pattern, where preceding protests in Hong Kong led to questions being raised regarding the use of Chinese state-backed facial recognition, coupled with a directive to ban the wearing of masks to safeguard privacy. In India, a glimpse of this was also seen during the Delhi riots that took over the early part of 2020. On this note, what has been uniformly underlined is the need to regulate facial recognition, and understand the thin line that breaches the privacy of a common man.

Highlighting these factors and much more, on June 25, senators in the United States of America proposed a new legislation that aims to prevent the police or any law-keeping body from using facial recognition technology under the guise of legal recourses. Filed by senators Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley, the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act is calling for a full ban on the use of facial recognition technologies by the government and government bodies. This injunction of sorts aims to remain in place until proper legislation safeguarding privacy and human rights – as well as stringent levels of data protection – are brought up. The moratorium will supposedly be lifted once the US Congress passes a bill years later allowing it, and as per the proposal of the senators, any federal agency in USA still proceeding to use facial recognition will not receive grants from the centre to function.

Relevance, now more than ever before

The move is particularly relevant at this time, when technologies such as facial and voice recognition are allegedly being used to identify protesters across the world. On June 15’s episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver stated that almost half of America’s population have likely had their faces indexed or searched for by USA’s law enforcement agencies. This coincides with reports raising questions on how racial profiling may be an inherent part of today’s facial recognition technologies – Amazon’s alleged racial bias in its system come up in recent memory. Compounding the misery, a startup called Clearview AI – that rose to notoriety with its severely privacy-ending facial recognition tool sourced to the police – did not even seem to have a legal clause that would stop it from scraping faces off public domain photos and throwing them into a surveillance data system.

Taking cue from the recent discourse, on June 9, IBM stated that it will exit the facial recognition business. In the letter declaring so, CEO Arvind Krishna said that as an organisation, IBM will “not condone” any technology that enables mass surveillance and racial profiling to violate fundamental human rights. Soon after, Microsoft followed suit, enforcing a ban on selling its facial recognition technology to American police and other agencies. Amazon, which previously refused to stop selling the technology to the police by citing “sufficient” safeguards in its terms of service, has also announced a one-year moratorium on sourcing facial recognition to the police.

A reverse-China precedent

This is of particular importance, as it shows that USA, which often leads discussions on new technologies, is understanding the side-effects of using facial recognition for legal purposes, and may be prepared to lean away from it. The first notion of this had come up when the European Union had discussed a possible blanket ban on all facial recognition usage in public spaces, before scrapping it – apparently due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But, in a world where China, the world’s most populous nation, has enforced what is being referred to as a ‘social credit score’, this move is significant. In fact, this can form a precedent that might define how India would look at facial recognition in the near future.

A November 2019 documentary titled ‘China: Power and Prosperity’ by PBS NewsHour illustrated the plight of individuals living in a surveillance state such as China. In the documentary, Jessica Tan, co-CEO of one of China’s main facial recognition technology suppliers Ping An, revealed how the entire model of facial recognition in China has been built from the ground-up to recognise minute details, such as micro-expressions on a person’s face to detect driving discipline, or even straight-up face recognition to detect bad social behaviour, such as jaywalking. People noted to be in breach are then publicly shamed, to promote ‘good behaviour’. This sets an ominous note on the overall scheme of things when it comes to facial recognition – one which India should be careful to avoid.

What this means for India

In India, the Advanced Facial Recognition Software (AFRS), developed by private firm INNEFU Labs, has been in use with the police for over two years. In a previous News18 report, it was revealed that the technology was initially procured to identify and track missing children and women, in a bid to tap into human trafficking rackets in Delhi. However, this technology soon developed into a full-fledged law enforcement tool, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah revealed in March 2020 that over 1,100 faces were identified using this tool as perpetrators of the violent riots that broke out in Delhi in early 2020.

However, such use of the technology has seen considerable protest and backlash from communities such as lawyers and privacy overseers. In a previous interview with News18, N.S. Nappinai, cyber law advocate at the Supreme Court of India, had stated that there are no laws that govern the use, data capture and storage of facial recognition and related assets in India. Worryingly, despite not having a legal framework to back it up, New Delhi has already appeared among the top 20 most surveilled cities in the world, as per a market survey by Comparitech.

In hindsight, USA’s ruling does not particularly ‘mean’ anything directly for India. Right now, India does not have a legal framework in place for enabling or restricting facial recognition, which is what puts the onus more on the government to proceed in this avenue with extra caution. It is important to note that US lawmakers are pushing to ban use of facial recognition during a turbulent time due to the lack of enough legal framework, and not enabling it. Whether India goes down this road, or follows one that is closer to China, would be the most critical deciding factor behind India’s stance on fundamental human rights of freedom and privacy. With strong anti-China sentiments sweeping the nation in light of the Galwan Valley clash, it is important that we reserve the same sentiments when it comes to facial recognition, too.


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Tech

Amazon Blocks Police Access to Facial Recognition Software For a Year

Amazon.com Inc on Wednesday said it was implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software, halting a business it long defended as many protested law enforcement brutality against people of colour. The decision culminates a two-year battle between Amazon and civil liberties activists, who have voiced concern that inaccurate matches could lead to unjust arrests.

The death of George Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white police officer last month, has fanned worries that facial recognition would be used unfairly against protesters. Critics have pointed to a past study showing Amazon’s “Rekognition” service struggled to identify the gender of individuals with darker skin, research that Amazon has contested.

The company, which sells cloud computing technology via its Amazon Web Services division, said in a statement it has pushed for regulations to ensure the software was used ethically. “We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested,” Amazon said.

Congress has been weighing possible regulation of the technology for months. On Monday, IBM wrote lawmakers to say it no longer is offering facial recognition generally, while rival Microsoft Corp has turned down some sales and backed regulations but not a moratorium. Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, gave Amazon credit while calling for a more “blanket” moratorium.

“Face recognition technology gives governments the unprecedented power to spy on us,” Ozer said in a statement. “We urge Microsoft and other companies to join IBM, Google, and Amazon in moving towards the right side of history.” Microsoft spokespeople did not immediately answer a request for comment.

Amazon, due to its prominence and defense of facial recognition, has faced the brunt of criticism, giving symbolic significance to its announcement. Still, firms such as Idemia and NEC Corp are known to have more facial recognition government business. Private-sector sales of Rekognition accounted for around $3 million of Amazon’s $25.7 billion in cloud revenue in 2018, according to news site The Information.

One law enforcement user of Rekognition said Amazon was “throwing us under the bus.” Agencies generally have said they use facial recognition for post-crime investigations, not real-time monitoring. “After over and over again saying that they stand by us and how we use the tech, they are making it seem like all of a sudden they don’t think we use it right,” the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Amazon said it would continue to permit the technology’s use by customers that help law enforcement find human trafficking victims.



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Tech

IBM Will Not Work on Facial Recognition Till There Are Reforms to Prevent Surveillance, Profiling & More

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

The decision for IBM to get out of the facial recognition business comes amid the death of George Floyd that has led to mass protests worldwide.

  • News18.com
  • Last Updated: June 9, 2020, 10:37 AM IST

Technology giant IBM announced that it will no longer offer facial recognition or analysis software as the company’s new chief executive officer Arvind Krishna voiced support for policies to advance racial justice and combatting systematic racism. In a letter to the members of the United States Congress, Krishna urged a national discussion on whether domestic law enforcement agencies should be allowed to use facial recognition technology at all. IBM’s decision to shut down its facial recognition business comes at a time when government officials across the United States have proposed reforms to address police brutality and racial inequity, following the death of George Floyd that has led to mass protests worldwide.

“IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency,” Krishna wrote in the letter delivered to members of Congress. “We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies,” the letter read. Krishna’s letter was addressed to prominent senators in the US including the likes of Kamala Harris and Cory Booker in which he called for greater transparency and accountability to policing. Furthermore, IBM says they are willing to work with lawmakers on enacting police reform legislation that will further racial equity.

Krishna, who took over as CEO from Ginni Rometty in April, also noted that while artificial intelligence can be a powerful tool to help keep people safe, the technology needs to be tested for bias. “Artificial Intelligence is a powerful tool that can help law enforcement keep citizens safe. But vendors and users of Al systems have a shared responsibility to ensure that Al is tested for bias, particularly when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported,” he wrote.




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Helmets with IR Cameras, Face Recognition: Dubai Police Fights Covid-19 in Sci-Fi Style

An image of a smart helmet equipped with infrared thermal camera and facial recognition tech, in use by Dubai Police. (Image: Dubai Police/Instagram)

An image of a smart helmet equipped with infrared thermal camera and facial recognition tech, in use by Dubai Police. (Image: Dubai Police/Instagram)

In what appears to be gadgets straight out of Batman’s arsenal, Dubai Police’s smart helmets are helping them to scan faces and enforce quarantine.

  • PTI
  • Last Updated: April 14, 2020, 8:09 PM IST

Dubai police officials are using smart helmets fitted with an infra-red camera and other Artificial Intelligence technologies to detect high body temperature of public transport users amid the coronavirus outbreak in the Gulf country, according to a media report on Tuesday. The smart helmets equipped with infrared temperature detectors take a few seconds to accurately scan people’s temperature.

The helmets are also equipped with face recognition technology and car number reading technology, the Khaleej Times reported. The UAE is the first country in the region to use this technology. Deputy Chief of Police and Public Security Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim praised the Dubai Police for using the smart helmet as part of modern technologies in securing the transport sector, the paper said.

Brigadier General Obaid Al Hathboor, Director of Transportation Security Department, Dubai Police, said that smart helmets scan the temperature of public transport users and measure the audience temperature with high efficiency, in addition to the presence of artificial intelligence technologies such as face recognition technology and car number reading technology.

“This step is in line with the administration’s strategy to secure the transportation security sector in accordance with the best international standards and practices to counter the spread of coronavirus,” he said. The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention on Monday announced 398 new cases of coronavirus, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 4,521. So far 25 people have died due to the virus in the country.

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Tech

China Develops Facial Recognition Tech to Identify People Wearing Coronavirus Masks

A software engineer works on a facial recognition program that identifies people when they wear a face mask at the development lab of the Chinese electronics manufacturer Hanwang (Hanvon) Technology in Beijing as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus , China, March 6, 2020. Picture taken March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

A software engineer works on a facial recognition program that identifies people when they wear a face mask at the development lab of the Chinese electronics manufacturer Hanwang (Hanvon) Technology in Beijing as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus , China, March 6, 2020. Picture taken March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

A major client of the Beijing-based Hanwang Technology Ltd, which developed this technology, is the Ministry of Public Security, which runs the police.

  • Reuters
  • Last Updated: March 9, 2020, 3:37 PM IST
  • Edited by: Chhavianshika Singh

A Chinese company says it has developed the country’s first facial recognition technology that can identify people when they are wearing a mask, as most are these days because of the coronavirus, and help in the fight against the disease. China employs some of the world’s most sophisticated systems of electronic surveillance, including facial recognition. But the coronavirus, which emerged in Hubei province late last year, has resulted in almost everyone wearing a surgical mask outdoors in the hope of warding off the virus, posing a particular problem for surveillance.

Now Hanwang Technology Ltd, which also goes by the English name Hanvon, said it has come up technology that can successfully recognise people even when they are wearing masks. “If connected to a temperature sensor, it can measure body temperature while identifying the person’s name, and then the system would process the result, say, if it detects a temperature over 38 degrees,” Hanwang Vice President Huang Lei told Reuters in an interview.

The Beijing-based firm said a team of 20 staff used core technology developed over the past 10 years, a sample database of about 6 million unmasked faces and a much smaller database of masked faces, to develop the technology. The team began work on the system in January, as the coronavirus outbreak gathered pace, and began rolling it out to the market after just a month.

It sells two main types of products that use the technology. One performs “single-channel” recognition that is best used at, for example, entrances to office buildings. The other, more powerful, the product is a “multi-channel” recognition system that uses “multiple surveillance cameras”. It can identify everyone in a crowd of up to 30 people “within a second”, Huang says.

“When wearing a mask, the recognition rate can reach about 95 per cent, which can ensure that most people can be identified,” Huang said, adding the success rate for people without mask is about 99.5 per cent.

LOSING FACIAL INFORMATION

A big customer, not surprisingly, is the Ministry of Public Security, which runs the police. Using Hanwang’s technology, the ministry can cross-reference images with its own database of names and other information and then identify and track people as they move about, Huang said. “It can detect crime suspects, terrorists or make reports or warnings,” he said.

But the system struggles to identify people with both a mask and sunglasses, he said. “In this situation, all of the key facial information is lost. In such cases recognition is tough,” Huang said. The company has about 200 clients in Beijing using the technology, including the police, and expect scores more across 20 provinces to start installing it soon, Huang said.

It is not immediately clear how Chinese citizens are reacting to this new technology. When it comes to other surveillance tools being used in the fight against the coronavirus, there has been some grumbling on social media but most people seem to be accepting extra intrusion, or even embracing it, as a means to deal with the health emergency.

Although domestic customers have been driving Hanwang’s business, Huang also said he expected more foreign interest, as the virus spreads around the world and more people wear face masks. “It not only benefits Chinese people but also when the technology is applied globally, it can benefit the world,” he said.

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Microsoft Disagrees With EU And Sundar Pichai on Temporary Ban of Face Recognition Tech

The EU’s proposal for a temporary ban on facial-recognition technology won backing from Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai but got a cool response from Microsoft President Brad Smith. While Pichai cited the possibility that the technology could be used for nefarious purposes as a reason for a moratorium, Smith said a ban was akin to using a meat cleaver instead of a scalpel to solve potential problems.

“I think it is important that governments and regulations tackle it sooner rather than later and give a framework for it,” Pichai told a conference in Brussels organised by think-tank Bruegel. “It can be immediate but maybe there’s a waiting period before we really think about how it’s being used,” he said. “It’s up to governments to chart the course” for the use of such technology. Smith, who is also Microsoft’s chief legal officer, however cited the benefits of facial recognition technology in some instances such as NGOs using it to find missing children. “I’m really reluctant to say let’s stop people from using technology in a way that will reunite families when it can help them do it,” Smith said. “The second thing I would say is you don’t ban it if you actually believe there is a reasonable alternative that will enable us to, say, address this problem with a scalpel instead of a meat cleaver,” he said.

Smith said it was important to first identify problems and then craft rules to ensure that the technology would not be used for mass surveillance. “There is only one way at the end of the day to make technology better and that is to use it,” he said. The European Commission is taking a tougher line on artificial intelligence (AI) than the United States that would strengthen existing regulations on privacy and data rights, according to a proposal paper seen by Reuters. Part of this includes a moratorium of up to five years on using facial recognition technology in public areas, to give the EU time to work out how to prevent abuses, the paper said.

Pichai urged regulators to take a “proportionate approach” when drafting rules, days before the Commission is due to publish proposals on the issue. Regulators are grappling with ways to govern AI, encouraging innovation while trying to curb potential misuse, as companies and law enforcement agencies increasingly adopt the technology. There was no question AI needs to be regulated, Pichai said, but rulemakers should tread carefully. “Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities. This is especially true in areas that are high risk and high value,” he said.

Regulators should tailor rules according to different sectors, Pichai said, citing medical devices and self-driving cars as examples that require different rules. He said governments should align their rules and agree on core values. Earlier this month, the U.S. government published regulatory guidelines on AI aimed at limiting authorities’ overreach, and urged Europe to avoid an aggressive approach. Pichai said it was important to be clear-eyed about what could go wrong with AI, and while it promised huge benefits there were real concerns about potential negative consequences.

One area of concern is so-called “deepfakes” – video or audio clips that have been manipulated using AI. Pichai said Google had released open datasets to help the research community build better tools to detect such fakes. The world’s most popular internet search engine said last month that Google Cloud was not offering general-purpose facial-recognition application programming interfaces (APIs) while it establishes policy and technical safeguards.

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EU is Considering Banning Facial Recognition in Public Places And Bolster Data Rights

This comes amid a global debate about the systems driven by artificial intelligence and widely used by law enforcement agencies.

EU is Considering Banning Facial Recognition in Public Places And Bolster Data Rights
Representative image.

The European Union is considering banning facial recognition technology in public areas for up to five years, to give it time to work out how to prevent abuses. The plan by the EU’s executive – set out in an 18-page white paper – comes amid a global debate about the systems driven by artificial intelligence and widely used by law enforcement agencies. The EU Commission said new tough rules may have to be introduced to bolster existing regulations protecting Europeans’ privacy and data rights.

“Building on these existing provisions, the future regulatory framework could go further and include a time-limited ban on the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces,” the EU document said. During that ban, of between three to five years, “a sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures could be identified and developed.” Exceptions to the ban could be made for security projects as well as research and development, the paper said.

The document also suggested imposing obligations on both developers and users of artificial intelligence and that EU countries should appoint authorities to monitor the new rules. The Commission will seek feedback on its white paper before making a final decision, officials said. EU digital and antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager is expected to present her proposals next month. The U.S. government earlier this month announced regulatory guidelines on artificial intelligence technology aimed at limiting authorities’ overreach and urged Europe to avoid aggressive approaches.