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Protesters in India object to facial recognition expansion


Police in New Delhi are using facial recognition to identify protesters. Activists are worried about the lack of regulation around the technology. They are also sharing tips on evading detection.

Activists in the Indian capital of New Delhi are expressing concern over the use of facial recognition by the police amid intensifying protests over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The protesters are reportedly anxious about the lack of regulation around facial recognition and its possible role in the crackdown on the protest movement. They point to the fact that the government didn't acknowledge it was using the technology for this purpose until a national newspaper, The Indian Express, first broke the news in December.

Back then, the technology was used to identify and filter out what the police called "law and order suspects" at one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rallies.

When the Delhi Police first acquired its Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) in 2018, the original purpose was to identify and locate missing children by matching facial images.

Face masks, handkerchiefs and pseudonyms

"I do not know what they are going to do with my data," Rachita Taneja, a Delhi-based activist who created an online cartoon about cheap ways for protesters to hide their faces, told Reuters. "We need to protect ourselves, given how this government cracks down."

A 21-year-old Muslim protester told Reuters that he has adopted a pseudonym and at times covers his face with a handkerchief to avoid being identified.

"We don't know enough about these things, but we are trying to take some precautions," he said.

Read moreOpinion: India's new citizenship act is unconstitutional

The recently retired police chief of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, O P Singh, told Reuters that facial recognition had only helped the police in detaining a "handful" of more than 1,100 people arrested on charges of alleged links to violence during protests.

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Women against 'discriminatory' legislation

Indian civil society is incensed over a new citizenship law that allegedly discriminates against Muslims. Protests have erupted across the country, with citizens demanding the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) roll back the legislation. Indian women are spearheading the protest rallies in several parts of the country.

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Fight against 'fascism'

Female university students have taken to the streets in India, raising slogans against government's "unconstitutional" measures, which they say threaten the country's secular ideology. Although the mass demonstrations are against the citizenship law, they also confront fascistic social tendencies, misogyny, religious extremism and police brutality.

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Discarding hijabs

From removing their hijabs to challenging the hardline Shiite regime, Iranian women have shown exemplary courage in the past few years. Despite a crackdown on these "westernized" Iranian women, the demonstrations continue in different forms in major Iranian cities.

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Rising up against the regime

Iranian women have experienced patriarchal suppression since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Their demands for equal rights, freedom of speech and assembly, have always been snubbed by the regime. But that has not discouraged women from rallying against the authorities. Also, Iranian women actively participate in all political and civil demonstrations.

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Pakistani women say 'enough is enough'

Misogyny is rampant in Pakistan, with many people looking down upon women who demand equal rights. Dubbed "Western agents" and "NGO mafia," feminists are generally rejected by a large section of society. Despite these odds, Pakistani women are increasingly making their voice heard, organizing rallies and demonstrations that have galvanized the liberal sections in the past few years.

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Larger social movements

Although women's rights movements in Pakistan have largely been exclusive, focusing mainly on issues like gender-based violence, child marriage and "honor killings," women can now be seen participating actively in pro-democracy protests. Last year, female university students led a nationwide movement for the restoration of student unions that forced lawmakers to debate the issue in parliament.

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Small in number, big in strength

Women's rights are not a major concern for many in Afghanistan – a country ravaged by wars in the past few decades. The international community is mainly concerned about the peace talks with Taliban insurgents and a stable government. Mostly ignored by their own government and the West, Afghan women are still making their presence felt.

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Ignored by the West?

As the US and the Taliban near a deal on ending America's longest war, many women and girls in Afghanistan are worried about losing what few rights and freedoms they've gained over nearly two decades. In this photo, Afghan women right activists demand justice for Farkhunda Malikzada, who was brutally beaten and killed by a mob in 2015 for allegedly setting a copy of the Koran on fire.

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Modi's government is currently seeking bids from companies to help set up a National Automated Facial Recognition System. It would match photos captured from CCTV with existing databases, with policing a key potential use for such technology. Critics equate the project with the far larger-scale surveillance system in China.

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However, software companies that have supplied facial recognition technology to police in various states dispute the prospect of mass surveillance.

Atul Rai, co-founder of Staqu — a tech company that supplies its Police Artificial Intelligence System to eight Indian states including Uttar Pradesh — told Reuters that worries about mass surveillance were exaggerated because of the difficulties of achieving this with a population exceeding 1.3 billion people. Although he added that there was a need for regulations to avoid potential issues.

"If somebody is throwing stones at a police officer, doesn't he have a right to take a video and identify him?" Tarun Wig, co-founder of Innefu that provides Delhi Police with the facial recognition software, told Reuters.

03:45 mins.
DW News | 14.01.2020

Indian citizenship law brings protestors to the streets

CAA particularly unpopular in Delhi

Protest movements have been galvanizing in different parts of the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which was passed in December by the Narendra Modi-led Hindu nationalist government. 

The CAA fast-tracks the naturalization of non-Muslim migrants that arrived in India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before 2015. Critics argue that excluding Muslims defies India's secular constitution, Modi's government counters that Muslims are not a threatened minority in these three countries.

Shaheen Bagh, a Muslim-majority neighborhood in Delhi has become the epicenter of the protests.

dvv/msh (Reuters, dpa)