International human rights organization Amnesty International has raised concerns over the increasing and extensive surveillance in Hyderabad. They argue that it is putting human rights at risk as the common man’s privacy is being violated. Amnesty International, along with Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), an organization working for an individual’s digital freedom and human rights group Article 19, has started a campaign, Ban The Scan, to investigate the mass surveillance in the city and also to campaign against abolition of intrusive facial recognition technology.
Already the most surveilled city, Hyderabad has started construction of an ominous ‘Command and Control Centre (CCC), intended to connect the state’s vast facial recognition-capable CCTV infrastructure in real-time. Also, a study by Internet Freedom Foundation found that Telangana state has the highest number of facial recognition technology (FRT) projects in India.
Some civilians complain that it is almost impossible to walk down the street without risking facial recognition. Many are also complaining against police using tablets to stop, search and photograph civilians. Amnesty has also released a video that showed how the state’s surveillance could lead to profiling certain communities or groups.
However, in its turn, the police and state government maintain that the move is to curb crime in the city. The government has already invested in eight lakh CCTV cameras. An independent digital activist feels that such moves curb not only an individual’s right to privacy but also his right to protest.
A few weeks back, the police randomly checked the phones of youngsters for the words ‘ganja’ or ‘weed’. The digital activist says as per Section 19 of the Hyderabad Police act, an officer infringing on a citizen’s right to their personal property can be jailed for six months or fined Rs 500 or be charged with both.
Anushka Jain, counsel at Internet Freedom Federation, shares that IFF’s attempts at getting Hyderabad police’s crime data resulted in nothing as the police sought exemption under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.