Going by indications from the Unique ID Authority of India, Aadhaar numbers could soon be linked to people’s images, allowing the government and corporations to identify people from their photographs and videos.
“UIDAI introduces yet another landmark technology for authentication – Face Authentication,” tweeted @ceo_uidai, the official handle of the CEO of UID Authority of India.
“AadhaarFaceAuth (Aadhaar Facial Authentication) will help all elderly or others facing issues with fingerprint authentication.
“Service to be launched by 1 July 2018,” he added.
At present, UID Authority does not have the capability to identify people from their photographs, but only from fingerprints and eye-scans.
The existing photograph of the citizens will be used for the purpose.
“Since face photo is already available in UIDAI database, there is no need to capture any new reference data at UIDAI CIDR,” the organization said.
“Camera is now pervasively available on laptops and mobiles, making the face capture easily feasible for AUAs without needing any additional hardware.”
UIDAI also said that some safeguards may need to be put in to ensure that face recognition is being done from a person, and not a dummy, statue or photograph.
“Face authentication with liveness detection can be used as an additional factor to increase security,” it added.
INCONSPICUOUS & REALTIME
The incorporation of facial recognition into Aadhaar will enable UIDAI and its agents such as companies to identify people passively and inconspicuously.
In other words, at present, a person can be identified by his Aadhaar details only with his or her permission and in close proximity, as he or she has to put his or her fingerprints or iris scanned.
With face recognition, people can be identified without their knowledge or permission, from public camera feeds.
Though UIDAI is not selling the real-time tracking ability, the technology is likely to be used by security agencies to help identify targets such as terrorists and criminals using existing CCTV setups in buildings, roads and so on.
China has already gone far ahead in developing this capability and it is believed that the Chinese government has the ability to track its citizens’ movements in real time.
While this is exciting to some people, the prospect of the government tracking everyone on the roads is unnerving to others.
“The UIDAI is not becoming a world leader in emerging technology but harming fundamental rights and individual liberty,” said Delhi-based advocate Apar Gupta, who tracks matters related to civil liberties online.
Gupta does not appreciate the speed with which such a far-reaching change in the application of the Aadhaar database is being sought to be implemented.
“This is nothing but a data grab while gaming legal processes so safeguards cannot be built, rights cannot be protected,” he said. “Facial recognition will now be as a system of government authentication. Like China.”
He sees the government adopting a pattern of “delaying hearings in court by disputing privacy, dragging a data protection statute for years and at the same time launching a blitzkrieg of experimental technology.”
It remains to be seen what view Supreme Court takes on the potential of passive monitoring and surveillance of the population using Aadhaar data and facial recognition.
The top court is hearing a case that seeks to challenge the use of Aadhaar database — the largest biometric database in the world — by the government to establish citizens’ identities.
At present, the data is used to ascertain a person’s identity before he or she is given government aid or subsidy.
It is also used to identify people involved in financial transactions — such as large cash deposits, opening of new bank accounts and so on.