India spies on its population with sophisticated technology

REPUBLIKA.CO.ID, NEW DELHI — Khadeer Khan was arrested in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad in January. The arrest came after police claimed to have identified him through CCTV footage as a suspect in the snatching incident.

Khan was finally released a few days later. However, he died while being treated for injuries believed to have been sustained while in custody.

Police said Khan was arrested because he resembled the man seen in CCTV footage. “When it was ruled out that Khadeer was not the perpetrator of the crime, he was acquitted. “Everything happened according to procedure,” said assistant police inspector K Saidulu.

But human rights activists (HAM) said the 36-year-old had clearly been misidentified. This risk increases with the widespread use of video surveillance in the state of Telangana, which has the highest concentration of surveillance technology in the country.

“We have been warning for years that video surveillance and facial recognition technology can be misused for harassment and they can misidentify people,” said human rights activist SQ Masood.

Masood filed a lawsuit in 2021 regarding the use of facial recognition technology in Telangana, which is still ongoing. “This case reveals how dangerous it is,” he said.

The use of video surveillance and facial recognition is growing in schools, airports, train stations, prisons and streets across India. Authorities have launched a national system to fight crime and identify missing children.

This feature is not the only form of surveillance in the country. The Aadhaar biometric national identity, with around 1.3 billion identities issued, is linked to dozens of databases, including bank accounts, vehicle registrations, SIM cards and electoral rolls. Meanwhile, the National Intelligence Network aims to link nearly two dozen government agency databases to citizen profiles.

Srinivas Kodali of the Free Software Movement of India sees the purpose of Aadhaar as tracking everyone from birth to death. “Anything related to Aadhaar ends up in the hands of the interior ministry, police and surveillance agencies, so dissent against the government becomes very difficult,” he said.

At the same time, internet surveillance has also evolved, with increased monitoring of social media and the world’s most frequent internet shutdowns. Authorities have said the measures are necessary to improve governance and security in a country severely lacking in oversight.

But technology experts say there is little correlation with crime because it invades privacy and targets vulnerable people. “Everything is digitized, so a lot of information generated about a person can be accessed by governments and private entities without adequate protection,” said Anushka Jain, legal counsel for the advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation.

“At a time when people are being attacked because of their religion, language and gender identity, the ease of access to this data can be very dangerous. “It could also result in individuals losing access to social programs, public transportation, or the right to protest whenever the government deems it necessary,” Jain said.

The latest iteration of digitalization is Digi Yatra, which was launched at airports in Delhi, Bengaluru and Varanasi in December. This feature allows passengers to use Aadhaar identity and facial recognition to registration at the airport.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation said Digi Yatra helps reduce waiting times and makes the boarding process faster and smoother. There is a special path for those who use the application.

But, according to Kodali, people who choose not to use Digi Yatra may be viewed with suspicion and will have to undergo additional screening.

Data, including travel details, may also be shared with other government agencies. This condition is seen as being able to be used to put people on the no-fly list and prevent activists, journalists and dissidents from traveling, as has already happened.

Jordan Carlson

"Zombie geek. Beer trailblazer. Avid bacon advocate. Extreme introvert. Unapologetic food evangelist. Internet lover. Twitter nerd."

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