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Bengaluru Metro Mulls Deploying Facial Recognition System

Bengaluru Metro is set to come up with monthly pass using face recognition technology

A BMRCL official confirmed to Inc42 that it would be initiated as a pilot project in Bengaluru’s MG Road and Ulsoor metro stations

The move has raised questions about the usage and storage of data, and if it is a violation of the right to privacy

Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation (BMRCL) is set to introduce a monthly pass system using face recognition technology (FRT) at the city’s metro stations, replacing smart cards.

A BMRCL official confirmed to Inc42 that it would be initiated as a pilot project in Bengaluru’s MG Road and Ulsoor metro stations since these are the city’s busiest parts.

The news was first reported by The Times Of India. The Corporation plans to extend the technology to other metro stations if the trial is successful, it said, quoting BMRCL Managing Director Anjum Parwez.

Parwez said that with the implementation of the technology, the automatic fare collection (AFC) gates would open automatically when passengers stand in front of the gates. 

BMRCL plans to introduce AI-based FRT as there is a strong demand for monthly passes, but the Corporation is worried about its misuse as the same card can be used by multiple travellers at different times.

Earlier this week,  the Corporation also signed an MoU with tech giant Google to provide real-time information about trains.

“We’ll provide the entire data about train movements at Metro stations to Google so they can provide real-time information on the Google Map,” said Parwez. “For commuters, it will be easy to know what time a train is reaching a particular station even if they are not inside the station,” he added. 

However, it’s not clear if Google would also be BMRCL’s partner in deploying the FRT in the metro stations.

Can Data Protection Be a Concern Here?

According to legal experts, the short answer to this question is a ‘yes’. 

In fact, it’s not only about the deployment of FRT in public places. According to several legal experts, any collection exercise initiated by the government in the absence of a robust data protection law in the country can be problematic because it could end up facilitating mass surveillance.

Anushka Jain, associate policy counsel at Internet Freedom Foundation, said that since biometrics are now being used instead of smart cards, it violates the right to privacy judgement on the K.S. Puttaswamy case of the Supreme Court.

The apex court had delivered a unanimous verdict in 2017 in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India and other connected matters, saying that the Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to privacy to each individual. 

Also, there are certain thresholds when it comes to the state trying to “intrude” into citizens’ privacy, which include legality, necessity and proportionality. “The invasion should be proportionate to the fulfilment of the state aim, and the state can’t invade into the privacy more than what is necessary for the fulfilment of the state aim,” said Jain.

Hence, in this context when citizens already have the smart cards, there is hardly any necessity to install FRT at the metro stations. Here, the invasion would be more than it was needed, she added.

Echoing similar sentiment, Rahul Goel, partner at AnantLaw, said that when it comes to dealing with sensitive personal data like biometric data (facial recognition is biometric data), there is a requirement to seek specific consent of the people concerned and it should be optional, not mandatory.

This raises the question if the collection of facial recognition data would be optional or mandatory at the metro stations.

“On a prima facie basis, this is possibly a violation of the Puttaswamy judgement and also the personal sensitive data guidelines under the IT Rules,” said Goel.

Currently, there is no clarity on how the data would be stored and used, and who will have access to the data.

Concerns Beyond Data

While the move to introduce FRT is intended to make travelling easier, it can face other issues as well.

Jain said that currently, it is just an assumption that facial recognition would work accurately all the time.

It is important to note in this context that there are several other considerations such as the quality of the cameras, photos that are stored in the database, people changing their looks, and more. When such technology is deployed in a public place, it is important to ensure that such nuances are thought through to ensure true ease of use, she added.

Especially with the usage of masks in the post-pandemic world, there needs to be more clarity on how facial recognition would work.

Inc42 has reached out to BMRCL to get clarity on these questions. The article would be updated upon receiving the Corporation’s response. 

The Broader Picture Of Facial Recognition System In India

It is not the first time that India is trying to use FRT in public places. According to Panoptic Tracker, 124 FRT systems are installed in India and 116 RTIs have been filed so far on the facial recognition system (FRS).

In December 2018, the Ministry of Civil Aviation launched DigiYatra that was aimed at simplifying airport entry using facing recognition. The plan was to enable automatic processing of passengers’ authentication based on FRS at all checkpoints, including airport entry, at security checks and aircraft boarding.

As per the latest government release, FRS is to be implemented in a phased manner and the first phase is planned at Kolkata, Varanasi, Pune, Vijayawada, Bangalore, Delhi and Hyderabad airports by March 2023. However, the preliminary testing of the DigiYatra biometric boarding system has been completed in these airports.

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