Aadhaar facial recognition may marginalise vulnerable people

Occurred: April 2021

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Plans by the Indian government to use facial recognition integrated within the country's Aadhaar biometric ID system has raised fears that millions of vulnerable people without mobile phones or internet access will lose out on receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations.

According to Reuters, a facial recognition system based on the Aadhaar ID is being tested in the eastern state of Jharkhand as a 'touchless' vaccination process and hence better way of avoiding infection. Should the pilot prove successful, the system may replace fingerprint or iris scans at COVID-19 vaccination centres across the country.

RS Sharma, head of India's National Health Authority, was quoted as saying the system would not be mandatory, but new guidelines indicate that Aadhaar is already the 'preferred' mode of identity verification and for vaccination certificates.

Anushka Jain, associate counsel at the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), told Reuters that using facial recognition at vaccine centres risks further marginalising vulnerable people who may be misidentified and refused the vaccine, and raises fears the controversial technology could become the norm at all centres.

The IFF filed Right to Information requests demanding to know the specific purposes for which facial recognition technology will be used, the legislation which authorises them to do so, and the total expenditure incurred to procure such technology. The IFF also sought to know the list of persons authorised to access the technology, the software and hardware being used, and details of the database. 

Operator: Aadhaar
Developer: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI); National Health Authority (NHA) 

Country: India

Sector: Govt - health

Purpose: Verify identity

Technology: Facial recognition
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Bias/discrimination - economic; Security; Privacy

Transparency: Governance; Black box


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