Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS): Benefits & Concerns in India

Automated Facial Recognition System
Automated Facial Recognition System - A way of recognizing a human face through technology.
Automated Facial Recognition System
Automated Facial Recognition System – A way of recognizing a human face through technology.

Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) is grabbing the headlines in India currently. This is because the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has released a request proposal for an AFRS that can be used by police officers throughout the country.

What is Union Government’s plan regarding  AFRS?

The NCRB has requested a proposal (issued on June 28) for procuring National Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS). It will reportedly be used by the law enforcement agencies for identifying missing persons, criminals, and unidentified dead bodies in a scientific and speedy manner. While inviting bids, the NCRB has said that the AFRS will “capture face images from CCTV feed and generate alerts if a blacklist match is found”. This Home Ministry sponsored project will kick off in 2020.

However, this notification has triggered privacy concern among cyber experts. Home Ministry officials have clarified on July 11 that the proposed AFRS will be used only for people figuring in the CCTNS (Crime and Crime Tracking Network and Systems) database. AFRS will not use any other database. The officials are assuring that only law enforcement agencies can access the database and the privacy of citizens will be secure.

The CCTNS database includes “accused persons, prisoners, missing persons, unidentified found persons including children and unidentified dead persons.” This database is linked with over 15,500 police stations as well as 6,000 higher offices throughout India. The concerned database currently has 7.71 lakh cases of missing persons including 98,000 children. The CCTNS database was first envisaged after the 2009 Mumbai terror attack.

Was AFRS used in India Earlier?

Yes, AFRS has been used earlier too.

  • In August 2018, Telangana police launched their own facial recognition facility.
  • The Ministry of Civil Aviation’s “DigiYatra” has used the facial recognition system, on a trial basis, in the Hyderabad airport on July 1.

The new AFRS system is going to be integrated with Integrated Criminal Justice System (ICJS), the ‘Khoya Paya’ portal on missing children, Immigration, Visa, and Foreigners Registration & Tracking (IVFRT), and state-specific systems.

What is AFRS?

Automated Facial Recognition System involves a large database (of photos as well as videos of peoples’ faces) and biometric software. The software maps facial features (80 nodal points on a person’s face including length/width of a person’s nose, eye sockets’ depth, cheekbones’ shape, etc.) of an individual mathematically and stores the data as a faceprint in the database.

Deep learning algorithms are used by the biometric software for comparing a live CCTV footage or digital image stored in the database for verifying the identity of an individual. The AI (artificial intelligence) technology used to find and match patterns is known as ‘neural networks’.

A senior former Home Ministry official has said that, till now, facial recognition has been done manually in India. While iris scans and fingerprints are used for providing accurate matching results, AFRS will be used for carrying out automatic facial recognition and identification, especially amongst crowds.

What are the Benefits of AFRS?

1. With AFRS, the law enforcement agencies don’t need any physical contact with a device for recognizing or authenticating a person’s identity. This will help in instant authentication of a person in a crowd without requiring any physical contact with a device (as in the case of fingerprint scanners).

2. When compared to other biometric authentication techniques, it needs less processing.

3. AFRS provides enhanced security level, especially regarding access to a restricted area or a gadget (say, smartphone).

4. It is an easier and automated way to identify or recognize a person in the crowd. AFRS is happening now and the day is not far in India when you don’t have to authenticate your IDs at the airport checkpoints because it has already been done and matched while you were entering the arena. Integrating Automated Facial Recognition System is easy. AFRS can easily help automate authentication.

5. The accuracy has improved over time in recognizing a person, even when wearing glasses (non-colored).

What are the Uses of Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS)?

1. The US Government’s Department of Homeland Security is already using AFRS for monitoring people at airports so that they can identify people:

  • Against whom a criminal investigation is underway
  • Who have overstayed their visas

The first success story of AFRS was reported in August 2018 by the customs officials who arrested an imposter from Washington Dulles International Airport, trying to enter the United States.

2. Facial recognition technology was first introduced by Apple in its iPhone X smartphone for unlocking. The leading tech company claims that there is a 1-in-a-million chance of your phone getting unlocked by a random face.

3. Social media sites such as Facebook use a face recognition algorithm for identifying a person in an uploaded photo. This helps in automatically tagging persons present in the picture.

4. Some companies have started using a facial recognition system instead of security badges for its employees.

5. Airliners can scan a person’s face and let him/her board a flight instead of scanning their boarding pass.

6. AFRS can be used by religious groups to check who are attending the congregations regularly. In fact, this can help these religious groups in tailoring requests of donation.

7. Retailers can use facial recognition technology to identify/recognize suspicious persons as well as potential shoplifters inside the store.

8. Facial recognition can help marketers and advertisers identify target audiences as per their age, gender, ethnicity, etc. for creating customized marketing campaigns.

Is there any concern regarding AFRS?

Cyber experts have cautioned that the Automated Facial Recognition System can be used as a controlling tool by the government and transform India into a police state. In fact, the privacy and data of Indian citizens can also be at risk. Indian citizens are more vulnerable to privacy abuses because of the absence of data protection law in India. In fact, the hackers can access the data of facial imprints and steal them for own benefit.

Moreover, even now facial recognition systems are not 100% accurate. Therefore, there can be chances of mistaken identity. It may happen that you are mistaken as a criminal and end up in jail, even when you are completely innocent.

If the AFRS is used for surveillance of common citizens, then it will rob them of their basic freedom. China is currently in the process of implementing a national reputation system by 2020 for assessing economic and social reputations of citizens as well as businesses through mass surveillance and the use of big data. Social Credit System can be used for restricting certain privileges or free movement. The persons having low Social Credit Scores can be restricted from using credit cards, renting hotels, or purchasing domestic flights. Replicating any such system in India will rob Indians of their well-cherished basic rights of freedom.


Experts say that AFRS can be deceived by wearing dark and shiny sunglasses. It can either lead to mistaken identity or can be used by criminals or terrorists to avoid being recognized. In fact, Japan’s National Institute of Informatics has come up with glowing glasses having infra-red LEDs that foil facial recognition. While implementing the AFRS system, the Union government should keep these aspects in mind for implementing a foolproof system.

Though the Indian government has said that they will use CCTNS (Crime and Crime Tracking Network and Systems) database to track criminals and terrorists using fake identities, they must ensure that the basic freedom rights of the Indian citizen don’t get violated through the Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS).

Related Link:

Facial Recognition Tech Identifies You, Wherever You Go