Statement on IFF's Panoptic Bengaluru report
On February 20, 2023, Internet Freedom Foundation’s Project Panoptic in collaboration with the NewsMinute launched a city specific report on the growing surveillance in the city of Bengaluru, Karnataka. Based on RTI requests and interviews the report compiles details about the use of facial recognition technology by the Bengaluru Police, at the Bengaluru airport and KSR Bengaluru railway station, and by the Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation Ltd.
“The growth of surveillance in India’s urban cities sets a dangerous trend and it is worrying to see the extent to which surveillance in Bengaluru is ongoing without any law in place to regulate the actions of the state government. In the absence of a data protection law to safeguard their right to privacy, the citizens of Bengaluru are extremely vulnerable to being victims of mass surveillance”, said Anushka Jain, Policy Counsel at Internet Freedom Foundation.
The report highlights the gradual embedding of surveillance throughout the city and reveals the Bengaluru Police’s plan to create a blacklist of individuals who will be monitored through the city’s vast network of facial recognition technology enabled CCTV cameras. In his budget speech on February 17, 2023, the Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai stated that a grant of 261 Crore INR has been made for the completion of the Nirbhaya Scheme in 2023, under which 4,100 cameras have already been installed in 1,640 places.
On December 1, 2022, the DigiYatra Scheme was launched at the Bengaluru airport. However, we are concerned as the DigiYatra policy presents privacy risks of profiling and data exploitation without any remedies or regulatory framework. It does not have any legislative basis as it is untethered to any policy or legal framework and thereby is unenforceable. (Read about our work on DigiYatra here) It has also been reported that around 157 CCTV cameras have been installed in the premises of the KSR Bengaluru railway station, however, the South Western Railway refused to provide further information on the project. Deployment of facial recognition at a railway station amounts to mass surveillance and South Western Railway’s refusal to provide transparency about the project further calls into question its legitimacy.
"As citizens we need to ask if these interventions are proportionate or not, and whether they are just a form of technology theatre. We should also subject any elected government's claims to higher levels of scrutiny and question if we are bartering our privacy, agency and dignity for perceived benefits that may not even materialise", said Prateek Waghre, Policy Director at Internet Freedom Foundation.
In the absence of a safeguarding legislation which would protect the privacy of the citizens of India and a law which would regulate the use of this technology, the dangers that such a technology present increase manifold. In such a situation, even the development of this technology is harmful and should be stopped. Consequently, the Internet Freedom Foundation has called for a complete ban on the use of this technology by the government entities, police and other security/intelligence agencies. Read the complete petition here.