DU Express 24 Jan 2021

AI cameras for safety of Lucknow women: Threat to privacy and other loopholes 

by Khushi Arora

Lucknow Police announced its idea to use smart cameras based on artificial intelligence for the safety of women. The camera will automatically interpret the facial expressions of a woman in distress, subjected to stalking, threats or harassment on the streets, take her photo and alert the police, before she even dials the national police helpline. They announced the idea at the Ashish: Abhay aur Abhyudaya workshop conducted at the Lucknow University campus on Wednesday, January 20.

Lucknow Police Commissioner D.K. Thakur said at the workshop that the police will identify around 200 hotspots all across the town. They will place the cameras in locations where women’s movement is the most and from where most complaints are received. Furthermore, the cameras will have reactions to 40-45 different eventualities and possibilities. Many activists are questioning the feasibility of taking such an action. They are seeing it as more of an invasion of the privacy of women than a measure for their safety. It also takes away the right of a woman to choose to report a crime.

Technology is a temptress who may seem to come up with easy, foolproof solutions at first. But that is not so. Even when it comes to using biometrics to unlock a cellphone, a mere paper-cut or a bad eye can leave her delusional. Trusting her to perfectly judge the facial expressions of the complex humankind, let alone protect the female sex is a fallacy. For all the temptress of technology knows, the police control room could be receiving alerts from hundreds of women, sixty of whom may just be having a bad day. Moreover, our facial expressions barely give away the chaos we endure inside. It’s almost like saying, “Women of Lucknow, please don’t frown without a reason!”

Anushka Jain, an associate counsel on transparency and right to information at Internet Freedom Foundation, propounded this point further. She said this move could lead to over-policing and unnecessary harassment by the police, NDTV Gadgets 360 reported. “We don’t know what expressions they are tracking and how accurate the system of tracking these expressions is,” she told NDTV. “Also, it’s not necessary that a person who’s making an expression of anger or distress is actually being harassed in a manner wherein police intervention is needed. I could be talking to a friend, and I could get upset over something. And that could also trigger the cameras.”

Anja Kovacs, founder and director of Internet Democracy, also brought up the issue of gendered surveillance. “What women, and most other people, need is more freedom, not more social control. We need a rights framework to deal with problems and challenges, not a protectionist one,” she tweeted. According to Kovacs, this also puts interfaith couples at risk in the wake of Uttar Pradesh’s notorious ‘love jihad’ ordinance and the actions taken under it.

Originally published in DU Express.