Facial recognition software use is being taken to a new level by Indian Police departments, with them using it in different ways to monitor peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Departments like the Delhi Police and the Hyderabad Police are stopping to take photos and videos of protesters, and the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh Police are even using drones.
The police do not have any authority to mass surveil general public, especially with no law on surveillance as ordered by the Supreme Court in the Right to Privacy judgment, Puttuswamy Vs Union of India (2017). In fact, the right to privacy and right to peaceful assembly are both fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
Facial Recognition Technology May Become Ubiquitous
In any progressive democracy, we would not be subjected to facial recognition software without safeguards in place, such as a law on it. Yet, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is planning to go ahead with a national automated facial recognition system. This will make facial recognition available to every beat cop on the street using mobile phone apps. The Hyderabad Police has been piloting and testing this on people. There is an increasing use of military tactic by the Indian police to gather intelligence, to ensure people are persuaded to not protest against ruling establishments.
We are seeing the extreme use of facial recognition technology during anti-CAA protests; the technology is simply going to become ubiquitous and be available everywhere like in tea shops, unless facial data is made hard to obtain.
While the new data protection bill limits usage of facial biometrics without consent, in practice there may always be companies and authorities who will violate this. Once the infrastructure for the technology is built, it may be really hard to stop it. Especially when we see that the courts are ordering police departments to buy these technologies to find missing children.
How to Protect Yourself From Facial Recognition Tech
The only way left for people to oppose this unjust practice is to start ‘gaming’ the facial recognition algorithms and by wearing masks. If there is anything that the Hong Kong protests have taught the world, it is how to protest in the 21st century. The protesters realised the disproportionate power of facial recognition and took down the street poles with cameras. Taking down cameras in India shouldn’t be done using force, but by the law; the Internet Freedom Foundation is fighting it legally. People can to cover up their faces and become anonymous to the cameras.
There are different ways to do this, wearing any mask would be good. You can print your own masks of freedom fighters like Gandhi, Bose, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sardar Patel, etc. While this act is better for protests, if you are walking on the streets alone, better wear a pollution mask. Instead of a mask, we can also consider fooling facial recognition systems by painting our faces or styling our hair to make it hard for the facial recognition algorithms to detect. There are several researchers who are developing different face style tactics to evade recognition. You can check some at cvdazzle.com.
The idea is to create a face structure which is not symmetrical, so you paint lines, blocks, circles on one side of the face or paint one side, leaving the other.
Face Paint, Infrared LED, Caps: Dodging Facial Recognition Software
Face paints and styles only lower the possibility of facial recognition, while the owner of the camera may still have images of you from the recordings. Another way to avoid them is to use infrared LED on your spectacles and caps. Most cameras won’t be able to capture your face with infrared light from the LEDs causing disruptions. You can easily buy a few party neon googles with normal LEDs and replace a few with infra LEDs, available in all major electronic shops. You can also buy those funky nose gogles, available on all major e-commerce websites and retrofit the LEDs.
While this is the case with facial accessories, fake beards and hair wigs may not really work unless they cover your face.
But these hair accessories can definitely be used as an extra style statement. While these are some great tactics, do understand that you may be required to be identified by the cops if detained or arrested. The only advice for that is call a lawyer or a friend, and do not be subject to intimidation. Know your rights and express your protest peacefully.
(Srinivas Kodali is a independent researcher working on data, technology and democracy. He tweets at @digitaldutta. This is an opinion piece. Views expressed in the article are that of the author’s own. The Quint does not advocate nor is responsible for them.)