Facial Recognition for COVID Vaccination: What About Data Privacy?

UIDAI plans to make the entire COVID-19 vaccination ‘ contactless’ through Facial Recognition Software (FRS).

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Indian government  said that it is piloting an Aadhaar based facial recognition system
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The Indian government on Tuesday, 6 April, said that it is piloting an Aadhaar-based facial recognition system to replace the biometric fingerprint or Isis scan machines at inoculation centres.

According to a report by The Print, the pilot programme is being carried out in Jharkhand which is reporting more than 1,000 successful facial recognition authentications on a daily basis at the vaccination sites.

National Health Authority (NHA) head RS Sharma said that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the governing body behind the Aadhaar authentication project will make the entire COVID-19 vaccination ‘contactless’ through Facial Recognition Software (FRS).

FRS is a technology that confirms an individual's identity using their face. It can be used to identify people in real time.

‘Will Roll It Out Across The Country’

The beneficiaries at the vaccination centre need to touch their fingers at the biometric machines in order to verify themselves. Such authentication process requires contact.

Hundreds of beneficiaries touch the same machine daily which can increase the spread of coronavirus. “ hey also need to touch the equipment for iris authentication,” said RS Sharma.

“Imagine a person who generated their Aadhaar card in 2011. Even after a decade, the software is able to recognise the face. Once we do about 50,000 to 60,000 facial authentications under the pilot, we will roll it out across the country,” he added.

‘Not A Viable Move’

The data obtained can never be 100 percent accurate, which could lead people being excluded from vaccination.

Speaking about facial recognition technology Cyber Security Expert Rajshekhar Rajaharia told The Quint, “No machine is perfect and the data obtained can definitely display a 'false positive' error”.

Anushka Jain, Associate Counsel, Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) told The Quint that the use of facial recognition technology for access to vaccines is not a viable move since the technology is highly inaccurate.

“This inaccuracy could potentially lead to people being excluded from vaccination which could have life threatening consequences,” she said.

Concerns Regarding Data Privacy

The question of ethics and privacy is the most contentious one. Many citizens worry that the use of AI-enabled cameras could restrict individual freedom. "These systems are highly intrusive because they rely on the capture, extraction, storage or sharing of people’s biometric facial data – often in the absence of explicit consent or prior notice," read a statement from Privacy International.

“The use of FRT is problematic since there is no legislation in place to regulate its use. In the absence of any law to regulate it, the technology could be easily misused and become a threat to the fundamental right to privacy of an Indian citizen.”
Anushka Jain, Associate Counsel, IFF

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