India calls for bidders to build a centralized facial recognition infrastructure

Photo by arvin keynes on Unsplash

The government of India has called for huge tech companies to bid for their most ambitious facial recognition technology project which aims to aggregate and centralize all facial recognition data from different national databases including its vast collection of CCTV footages, mug shots of criminals, passport photos and images collected by agencies such as the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

The call for proposals was published by the  National Crime Records Bureau, and tech companies are expected to submit their bids to build one of the world’s biggest facial recognition systems by October 11. 

The supposed platform, which is still currently unnamed, will be a “centralized web application hosted at the NCRB Data Centre in Delhi with DR in a non-seismic zone which will be made available for access to all the police stations of the country.”

The NCRB said that the facial recognition technology would also be able to search based on photos uploaded from newspapers, images sent in by the public, or artist sketches of suspected criminals. It will also have the capability of recognizing faces through closed-circuit cameras and alerting the authorities once the image matches to someone in the country’s blacklist. 

As part of the project, law enforcement officers shall also be equipped with mobile phones to receive the alerts in real-time and would allow them to scan a suspected person and run its facial recognition data through an app instantaneously. 

The new facial recognition platform in India “can play a very vital role in improving outcomes” when it comes to identifying criminals, finding missing persons, and detect crime patterns based on image analysis. It will also have the capability to identify people even after some plastic surgery procedures.

The facial recognition technology will have an “enhanced ability to detect crime patterns and modus operandi across the states and communicate to the State police departments for aiding in crime prevention,” reads the document published by the NCRB. 

While at least 80 representatives from different facial recognition technology vendors have attended in the pre-bidding meeting conducted by the Indian government, it is still unclear how many of the said vendors have actually submitted a proposal or bid for the project. IBM (IBM), Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), and Accenture (ACN) have all shown interest, according to Sivarama Krishnan, who leads cybersecurity at PricewaterhouseCoopers India.

“To be eligible to bid, a company has to have completed at least three facial recognition projects globally,” explains Apar Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation. Gupta’s organization is the NGO that calls for the cancellation of the call for bidders, arguing that the requirements set by the Indian government fundamentally disqualify most Indian vendors. 

The announcement of India’s plan to build a massive facial recognition infrastructure comes after multiple backlashes have been served against the law enforcement agencies in the West. In the United States, privacy advocates have been fighting against the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement agencies and government offices as it violates the privacy of the citizens. They claim that the unregulated nature of technology can potentially lead to abuse. As a result, many U.S. states, led by San Francisco, have already legislated against the use of facial recognition by the police. 

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