The Government Is Testing an Aadhaar‑Based Facial Recognition System for Tracking Covid19 Vaccination
The Indian Government is testing a pilot project that involves replacing biometric scan identification for vaccines with facial recognition via Aadhar data.
According to what National Health Authority CEO R.S. Sharma tells The Print, the Center is now checking the authenticity of facial recognition via Aadhar data. As of now, they are testing the project in Jharkhand and reported more than 1,000 successful authentications via facial recognition daily at vaccination sites.
“Right now, the beneficiaries at the vaccination centres need to touch fingers at the machine for the biometric authentication. They also need to touch the equipment for iris authentication,” Sharma says, adding that the use of facial recognition aims to make the entire process “touchless.”
The motivations behind launching this move are unclear. Covid19 does not primarily spread via touch, and facial recognition takes the same amount of time as biometric scans.
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The new project, therefore, raises concerns. Facial recognition is not 100% accurate and can lead to misidentification, potentially depriving individuals of vaccinations. Besides that, facial recognition technology is a serious privacy risk that is currently unregulated by Indian law. Placing facial recognition software as a barrier to something essential like a Covid19 vaccine also takes away people’s choice to reject utilizing such technology.
The only legal framework in India that could, in the future, regulate facial data is the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which remains a work-in-progress. A data breach or potential government misuse within these systems, then, could put citizens’ private data at risk.
While it is still unclear when the Centre intends to scale up its Aadhar-based facial recognition project at vaccination centers, as of now, it clearly is more flawed than valuable.