In August, Varsha Bansal reported how India’s tech hub, Hyderabad, has become the nation’s surveillance city. Now the authorities are doubling down on their reliance on camera systems.
This week, state authorities in Telangana announced a ramping up of surveillance across Hyderabad. On Monday, in a meeting with government and police officials, K. T. Rama Rao, the minister of Municipal Administration and Urban Development, tasked the police department with doubling the city’s surveillance cameras to about a million.
The authorities say the cameras should cover most of the city, including malls, parks, government hospitals and other public places in an effort to cut crime.
Rights activists are concerned about the impact on privacy. “The police and the administration blindly believe technology is the answer to reducing and almost stopping crime in the city,” Srinivas Kodali, an independent researcher working on data and governance, told me over email. “With facial recognition cameras, they are hoping to track everyone 24/7.”
Hyderabad has seen a steady increase in surveillance technology over the last decade and signage across the city often reminds Hyderabadis they are being watched. Last year, after a public backlash, authorities took down notices on the city’s metro that said “Big Boss is watching you.”
At the meeting, the police said the mass installation of CCTV cameras in Hyderabad has helped cut crime and kept people safe during the coronavirus pandemic. When authorities made the wearing of face masks mandatory in May, police used artificial intelligence to identify “mask violators” and fine them.
Kodali said the expansion of surveillance marks an intrusion into the everyday lives of ordinary Hyderabadis. “The key issue is lack of surveillance legislation protecting rights of the public.”
He added: “There is virtually no oversight or procedure on the police accessing or using CCTV footage.”
As Bansal reported, the Indian government is also planning to launch an online repository of images, the largest initiative of its kind in the world, which will match faces to an existing database of criminals. Last month, it was reported that companies seeking to bid for contracts for the Automated Facial Recognition System will be asked to demonstrate that their systems can detect faces with masks.