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Shah Didn’t Say Govt Used Aadhaar Data to Identify Delhi Rioters

“We have fed voter ID data into it, we have fed driving licence and all other government data into it,” Shah said.

Updated
WebQoof
3 min read
Several media outlets misquoted Home Minister Amit Shah to say that he has revealed that the govt is using Aadhaar data for facial recognition. 
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Multiple media outlets including Livemint, India Today and News18, reported on Wednesday, 11 March, that the Home Minister had revealed that the government relied on facial recognition software to identify people who were involved in the communal violence that broke out in Delhi between 24-25 February.

However, the media organisations went on to claim that the home minister had admitted the use of data from Aadhaar to identify these people.

“We are using face recognition software to identify people behind the violence. We have also fed Aadhaar and driving license data into this software, which has identified 1,100 people. Out of these, 300 people came from UP to carry out violence,” media quoted Shah as saying.

Shah Didn’t Say Govt Used Aadhaar Data to Identify Delhi Rioters
(Source: India Today)
Shah Didn’t Say Govt Used Aadhaar Data to Identify Delhi Rioters
(Source: News18)

Livemint updated the headline to remove the Aadhaar reference but the quote still mentions ‘Aadhaar’.

Shah Didn’t Say Govt Used Aadhaar Data to Identify Delhi Rioters
(Source: Livemint)

However, nowhere during his speech did Shah mention that the government used the Aadhaar data to identify the rioters. He indeed mentioned that the government was using a facial recognition technology but he mentioned the data was taken from ‘voter ID, driving licence and all other government data’ bases.

“We have fed voter ID data into it, we have fed driving licence and all other government data into it. More than 1,100 people have already been identified through this software,” Shah had said.

Elaborating, the home minister also added, “And I want to say that over 300 people from Uttar Pradesh came in to cause riots here. The facial data that we had ordered from UP makes it clear that this was deep conspiracy.”

A day later, Shah reiterated his statement in the Rajya Sabha and said that the government has not used Aadhaar data for facial identification.

With or Without Aadhaar, Experts Raise Concerns

It must be noted that with or without Aadhaar, the revelation by Shah rang alarm bells amongst experts of tech policy.

Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), an organisation which works in the field of net neutrality, freedom and privacy, took to Twitter to say that this raises ‘serious concerns regarding mass surveillance’.

Another tech policy researcher, Smriti Parsheera, called facial recognition ‘a tool for exercise of power’ adding that ‘rampant use will reshape personalities in unimagined ways’.

Shah’s statement comes at a time when several cities across the world have banned the use of facial recognition software by law enforcement agencies. And this admission by the home minister confirms that the government is actively deploying the technology for surveillance.

(Update: The story has been updated to incorporate Home Minister Amit Shah’s denial in the Rajya Sabha.)

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