NEW DELHI: In a move that could potentially be considered controversial, the Indian Railways is reportedly planning to use facial recognition and artificial intelligence technology to identify and catch criminals.
The Railway Protection Force, established by the Railway Protection Force Act, 1957 which works for the protection and security of railway property, reportedly aims to link the proposed facial recognition system with existing databases. This includes, but is not limited to the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS).
A Security Official told, “We are planning to connect CCTNS with our FRS database through a bridge software… With this we will have access to a huge database of criminals and our FRS software can easily be used to fetch the photos of potential criminals and match the faces. If we are able to install this across all our major stations, it will be a huge security breakthrough. This is something called preventive policing.”
However, security experts have warned that this move could potentially violate individual privacy and put the travellers’ data at risk.
The root for this proposed overhaul lies in the fact that the 26/11 attacks carried out by the terrorists included Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. That’s why RPF Director-General Arun Kumar said that they had identified 200 railway stations for a security overhaul.
To experts who have been watching government enterprises adopt emerging technologies, this news comes as no surprise. Under the leadership of Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, the mass transport system has adoption of technologies like AI, ML and computer vision over the last few years. From chatbot Ustaad to using AI to serve hygienic food, the Indian Railways are on a journey of adopting technologies in all spheres.
Will It Violate Privacy Of Passengers?
If you have been following the events of Indian Railways as closely as we have, you must know the rapid train of evolution and regressions it has been travelling on. Right from redesigning whole stations, in order to ensure maximum safety and security to millions of passengers travelling through this medium, to something as basic and extremely essential as transforming the Railways into 100% green.
The piece of information that we bring today strides much more on the side of security with the help of technology. Indian Railways is planning a complete overhaul of security at railway stations, with the help of facial recognition on the basis of artificial intelligence, to identify and nab criminals.
Indian Railways’ FRS
In the month of July, Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport initiated its Face Recognition (FR) system on a trial basis for passengers. It stoked fears among human rights groups and Internet advocates, with ideas of potential privacy violations and increased surveillance.
With the help of this technology, passengers were identified by their faces, without needing boarding passes and other identity documents.
It turns out that now Indian Railways’ security arm, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) is looking forward to link the facial recognition system (FRS) with existing databases such as the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) to identify criminals on railway stations.
It is no secret that railways stations have always been an easy and prime target for mishappenings, as they have easy access to crowded platforms. If the RPF manages to pull this technology off and install it across all major stations, it will be a huge security breakthrough.
RPF began comprehensively planning security tightening procedures after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. It identified 200 railway stations for a “security overhaul”. They started working on the facial recognition technology at the Bangalore station.
The Whole FRS and its Underlying Concerns
The facial recognition technology has already been manifested at the Bangalore station. However, due to fears of possible privacy violations among human rights groups and Internet advocates, seen at the launch of FRS in Hyderabad airport, the Indian Railways are concerned such problems shall resurface.
The problem is that there is no legal authority or framework for any such projects which are being tested as well as already deployed in India, declaring it illegal for now. Such a legislative framework is absolutely necessary as per the Supreme Court’s right to privacy judgment.
India does not yet have a privacy protection law in place.
The Incredible Accuracy of Facial Recognition Systems
Railway stations are a hub of millions of people travelling each day over long distances. The RPF has alredy tested FRS at such areas.
FRS can identify single faces out of tens of thousands. A unique biometric code is made for each face captured, augmented by artificial intelligence. It can be compared to other biometrics such as fingerprints and eye iris recognition systems.
After 5 months of intensive testing in railways by RPF in Bangalore, more than 200,000 passengers were covered and our algorithm could match 32 history-sheeters against the RPF database. People wearing hood, sunglasses etc at rush hour were easily identifiable.
On an average that system is learning about 1 lakh faces daily. The AI system keeps upgrading itself. The more you experiment the more it learns and grows.
Even if a photograph on the crime database is 10 years old, the system can identify the perpetrator of the crime can be identified by the FRS if he/she enters a railway station now.
Indian Railways also aims to impart skill training to RPF personnel for behavioral profiling at train stations, i.e. skills on spotting suspicious people, by the way they behave.
RPF also formed its own commando unit, which will be known as Commandos for Railway Safety (CORAS), who have been deployed along areas affected by left-wing extremism and in Jammu & Kashmir.