,A commuter stands on the doorway of a women-only compartment of a passenger train as it arrives at the Dadar railway station in Mumbai, India. Technology and privacy experts say the benefits of surveillance technologies are not clear and that they could breach people’s privacy, and that without data protection laws, there is little clarity on how the data is stored, who can access it and for what purpose. — Bloomberg
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As cases of violence against women and girls have surged in South Asia in recent years, authorities have introduced harsher penalties and expanded surveillance networks, including facial recognition systems, to prevent such crimes.
Police in the north Indian city of Lucknow earlier this year said they would install cameras with emotion recognition technology to spot women being harassed, while in Pakistan, police have launched a mobile safety app after a gang rape.
But use of these technologies with no evidence that they help reduce crime, and with no data protection laws, has raised the alarm among privacy experts and women’s rights activists who say the increased surveillance can hurt women even more.
“The police does not even know if this technology works,” said Roop Rekha Verma, a women’s rights activist in Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh state, which had the highest number of reported crimes against women in India in 2019.
“Our experience with the police does not give us the confidence that they will use the technology in an effective and empathetic manner. If it is not deployed properly, it can lead to even more haras *** ent, including from the police,” she said.
Lucknow is one of eight cities implementing a Safe City project that aims to create a “safe, secure and empowering environment” for women in public places, and curb crimes with “safer urban infrastructure and efficient access” to police.
But the project – alongside the 100 Smart Cities programme that relies on technology to improve services – is being used to exponentially increase surveillance, said Anushka Jain, an associate counsel at the Internet Freedom Foundation in Delhi.
“Authorities have used crimes against women as a justification to step up surveillance, but the massive spends on CCTV and facial recognition technology do not correlate to a corresponding drop in crimes against women,” she said over the phone.
“By targeting women disproportionately (authorities) are creating new problems in a society where women are already constantly tracked in their homes and for whom anonymity in public places is so important,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Lucknow Police Commissioner D.K. Thakur declined to give details on how the technology will be deployed, and how the data will be monitored or used.
Worldwide, the rise of cloud computing and artificial intelligence technologies has popularised the use of facial recognition for a range of applications from tracking criminals to admitting concert-goers.