Mass surveillance fears as India readies facial recognition system

Mass surveillance fears as India readies facial recognition system
By Rina Chandran

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As India prepares to install a nationwide facial recognition system in an effort to catch criminals and find missing children, human rights and technology experts on Thursday warned of the risks to privacy and from increased surveillance.

Use of the camera technology is an effort in “modernising the police force, information gathering, criminal identification, verification”, according to India’s national crime bureau.

Likely to be among the world’s biggest facial recognition systems, the government contract is due to be awarded on Friday.

But there is little information on where it will be deployed, what the data will be used for and how data storage will be regulated, said Apar Gupta, executive director of non-profit Internet Freedom Foundation.

“It is a mass surveillance system that gathers data in public places without there being an underlying cause to do so,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Without a data protection law and an electronic surveillance framework, it can lead to social policing and control,” he said.

A spokesman for India’s Home Ministry did not return calls seeking comment.

Worldwide, the rise of cloud computing and artificial intelligence technologies have popularised the use of facial recognition for a range of applications from tracking criminals to catching truant students.

There is a growing backlash however, and in San Francisco authorities banned the use of facial recognition technology by city personnel, and “anti-surveillance fashion” is becoming popular.

Facial recognition technology was launched in a few Indian airports in July, and Delhi police last year said they had identified nearly 3,000 missing children in just days during a trial.

But technology site Comparitech, which ranked the Indian cities of Delhi and Chennai among the world’s most surveilled cities in a recent report https://www.comparitech.com/vpn-privacy/the-worlds-most-surveilled-cities, said it had found “little correlation between the number of public CCTV cameras and crime or safety”.

Indian authorities have said facial recognition technology is needed to bolster a severely under-policed country.

There are 144 police officers for every 100,000 citizens, among the lowest ratios in the world, according to the United Nations.

The technology has been shown to be inaccurate in identifying darker-skinned women, those from ethnic minorities, and transgender people.

So its use in a criminal justice system where vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and minorities are over-represented risks greater abuse, said Vidushi Marda, a lawyer and artificial intelligence researcher at Article 19, a Britain-based human rights organisation.

“The use of facial recognition provides a veneer of technological objectivity without delivering on its promise, and institutionalises systemic discrimination,” she said.

“Being watched will become synonymous with being safe, only because of a constant, perpetual curfew on individual autonomy. This risks further entrenching marginalisation and discrimination of vulnerable sections.”

India’s Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling in 2017 on the national biometric identity card programme Aadhaar, said individual privacy is a fundamental right, amid concerns over data breaches and the card’s mandated use for services.

Yet the ruling has not checked the rollout of facial recognition technology, or a proposal to link Aadhaar with social media accounts, said Gupta.

“There is a perceptible rise in national security being a central premise for policy design. But national security cannot be the reason to restrict rights,” he said.

“It is very worrying that technology is being used as an instrument of power by the state rather than as an instrument to empower citizens.”

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

At least 18 people, mostly children, die in flash flood in Jordan

A child survivor is helped as residents and relatives gather outside a hospital near the Dead Sea, Jordan October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

DEAD SEA Jordan (Reuters) – At least 18 people, mainly schoolchildren and teachers, were killed on Thursday in a flash flood near Jordan’s Dead Sea that happened while they were on an outing, rescuers and hospital workers said.

Thirty-four people were rescued in a major operation involving police helicopters and hundreds of army troops, police chief Brigadier General Farid al Sharaa told state television. Some of those rescued were in a serious condition.

Many of those killed were children under 14. A number of families picnicking in the popular destination were also among the dead and injured, rescuers said, without giving a breakdown of numbers.

Hundreds of families and relatives converged on Shounah hospital a few kilometers from the resort area. Relatives sobbed and searched for details about the missing children, a witness said.

King Abdullah canceled a trip to Bahrain to follow the rescue operations, state media said.

Israel sent search-and-rescue helicopters to assist, an Israeli military statement said, adding the team dispatched at Amman’s request was operating on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.

Civil defense spokesman Captain Iyad al Omar told Reuters the number of casualties was expected to rise. Rescue workers using flashlights were searching the cliffs near the shore of the Dead Sea where bodies had been found.

A witness said a bus with 37 schoolchildren and seven teachers had been on a trip to the resort area when the raging flood waters swept them into a valley.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Alison Williams)

Mexican families search remains of hidden graves for missing children

Relatives of missing persons are seen outside the morgue after attending a viewing of photographs of clothing, accessories and identification cards found on bodies recovered recently from mass graves in Xalapa, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Mexico September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yahir Ceballos

By Tamara Corro

XALAPA, Mexico (Reuters) – Families gathered at a morgue in Mexico on Tuesday to comb through the remains of more than 150 bodies discovered at graves in southern Veracruz state, hunting for clues that could identify children and siblings who disappeared long ago.

“We still hope we can find her,” Paloma Martinez said of her older sister, now missing for two years.

Journalists are seen outside the morgue where relatives of missing persons attend a viewing of photographs of clothing, accessories and identification cards found on bodies recovered recently from mass graves in Xalapa, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Mexico September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yahir Ceballos

Journalists are seen outside the morgue where relatives of missing persons attend a viewing of photographs of clothing, accessories and identification cards found on bodies recovered recently from mass graves in Xalapa, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Mexico September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Yahir Ceballos

“My mother and I are here to see if there are ID cards or clothes or any clue that show us that she’s here … we’ve lived with anguish, and questions without answers.”

Investigators discovered 166 skulls in 32 graves last week on a tip from an unidentified person, Veracruz’s attorney general said on Thursday, adding that the bodies were likely dumped less than two years ago.

Further investigations indicated that the remains belonged to at least 174 bodies, the attorney general’s office said in a statement on Friday, when it showed photographs of findings from the graves to families of missing people.

Violent crime has long plagued Veracruz, a key route for drug gangs sending narcotics north towards the United States.

Authorities last year found more than 250 skulls in unmarked graves in Veracruz, an oil-rich state on Mexico’s Gulf Coast.

Hundreds of bodies in unmarked graves have also been found in states including Tamaulipas, Durango and Morelos during a decade-long drug war led by the military to battle the cartels, which led to increasingly bloody turf wars.

“This is the Veracruz we have, the Veracruz where we line up to see the remains of bodies,” said Lucia Diaz, director of Solecito Collective, a support group for parents of missing children. “Nobody could have imagined it would come to this.”

No family has yet found evidence from the remains in the graves uncovered last week to be able to identify a child, sibling or relative, she said.

Imelda Fernandez, wearing a surgical mask that had been handed to all family members at the morgue, said her son left the house one morning two years ago and never returned, leaving no trace.

“I think of him every day,” she said. “I’d like to find him one day and know what became of him, no matter whether he’s dead or alive.”

(Reporting by Tamara Corro; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon)