Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has launched Project Panoptic, a portal to track the deployment of facial recognition technology in India. IFF is an Indian non-governmental organization that conducts advocacy on digital rights and liberties, based in New Delhi. They file petitions and undertakes advocacy campaigns to defend online freedom, privacy, net neutrality, and innovation.
What is Project Panoptic?
Project Panoptic aims to bring transparency and accountability to the relevant government stakeholders involved in the deployment and implementation of facial recognition technology (FRT) projects in India.
They have created a digital public resource with an online dashboard that displays information gathered and collected on FRT deployments across India (both at the Central and state level). In the run-up to the launch of the database, IFF had also been writing extensively about how FRT projects have been deployed by various governments, in a complete violation of the Puttaswamy judgment which laid down the guidelines for intruding on a person’s privacy.
Where Does Facial Recognition Stand in India?
As IFF puts it:
“FRT projects are becoming dangerously popular in India with various national level projects (AFRS, DigiYatra and IP VSS) underway. However, all these projects have been implemented without any legislative framework governing their operation. Be that as it may, the most worrisome part is not just the implementation of a faulty FRT system but also the implementation of an accurate system which could become a tool of mass surveillance.”
There has been a call from around the world to ban this technology, as it is too lethal (and inaccurate) a weapon. Because of the concerns over the harms of the technology, Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM, have recently paused/abandoned their facial recognition projects. San Franciso had banned the use of facial recognition in 2019, and jurisdictions such as the EU have started considering a ban. Yet, their deployment in India remains unfazed.
IFF has been sending legal notices and filing RTIs as part of their fight against FRT. While almost all the coverage seems to be casting a suspicious eye at India’s FRT use, one report points out that the FRT system in India is the largest to be deployed in the world.
From Where Do We Get the Name Panoptic?
“The panopticon is a building of circular design intended for any institutional arrangement where the ‘inmates’ required constant supervision.
…Bentham developed the idea of the panopticon penitentiary as a substitute penal system, in which convicted criminals would be subject to a disciplinary regime based on the maxim that ‘the more strictly we are watched, the better we behave'”.
Michel Foucault further contributed to the study by talking about how such a system of supervision changes a person’s behavior when put under a constant state of surveillance.
“He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.”
You can also read the post by IFF on how they came up with the name.
You can check their Project Panoptic website here. It is important that we also start having conversations about the FRT technologies being used in India and the harms they pose.
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