NITI Aayog Facial Recognition study lacks transparency

IFF recently filed an RTI request with Niti Aayog to obtain information regarding their approval to conduct a study on the use of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) in India at a budget of Rs. 23.17 Lakhs.

We believe that vendor selection for a policy study that might lead to the development of a law is an important area of concern, not only because public funds are involved but also to ensure that such studies are not commissioned without a high level of transparency and input from all members of civil society. FRT impacts people in a real manner, especially with respect to the impact it has on the right to freedom of movement, right to protest and free assembly. Given the unregulated growth of FRT in India, it is very important that any study be conducted with a high level of transparency and clear norms indicating vendor selection as this will help avoid problems that have arisen with other government projects such as Aarogya Setu.

In the RTI request, we asked for the (1) minutes of the meetings during which the proposal was approved, (2) the basis for selection of the organisation, (3) the basis on which a budget of Rs.23.17 Lakh was approved, and (4) information regarding other organisations which were considered for the study. However, we have not received a satisfactory reply as the CPIO has not given us complete information and copies of the relevant documents. The reply can be seen below:

We have filed a first appeal against this RTI request, and will keep you informed when we receive a response.