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NCRB wants its automated facial recognition system to detect mask-covered faces too

NCRB's planned Automated Facial Recognition System is aimed at automatic identification and verification. It will be implemented at the national level.

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New Delhi: The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) now wants the facial recognition system it plans to adopt to detect faces even when covered by face masks.

The agency has an active tender calling for bids from interested vendors to build the planned National Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS). While the tender has been reportedly extended 12 times, the last day for filing has now been fixed for 8 October.

In a clarification issued earlier this month about the centralised application, the agency said it expects the AFRS to recognise faces covered with face masks.

“For mask-wearing faces, test cases will be included in the evaluation,” it said, adding that vendors who propose a system without such a provision will lose marks during evaluation.

This clarification came after the interested vendors raised questions over partial face matching while replying to the 147-page request for proposal (RFP) document the NCRB had released.

However, the face-mask requirement could prove to be a tough ask for the vendors. According to the US Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, facial recognition algorithms created before the pandemic “generally perform less accurately with digitally masked faces”.

The NCRB’s application is aimed at automatic identification and verification based on digital images, photos, digital sketches, video frames and video sources by comparison of selected facial features of the image from the existing crime and criminal databases. It will be implemented at the national level.

The vendors also raised the issue of making the facial recognition system’s mobile app compatible with Windows mobile operating system, which proprietor giant Microsoft has discontinued since December 2019.

However, the NCRB in its clarification insisted that the system must also be built as an app that can run on Windows mobile OS.

State-owned Bharat Electronics and BECIL, private major TCS, and foreign firms NEC Technologies (Japan) and Idemia (France) are among the companies that posed questions to the NCRB.

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Opposition to foreign companies

Innefu Labs, a Delhi-based vendor that supplies facial recognition software to the Delhi Police, objected to the participation of foreign companies in the tender, highlighting the risks of exposing sensitive data to a foreign organisation.

“Keeping the nature and scope of project into consideration with the stakeholders like NCRB/MHA/State/UT Police Forces/ Law Enforcement Agencies, it is not recommended to expose the facial data of identified Criminals / Radical profiles / terrorists and other such classified person all across India to a Foreign based Organization which may have a backdoor provision of relaying to any other agency outside India,” it said.

“The RFP is favoring a preferred foreign / Internal OEM (original equipment manufacturer) which is quite visible in the entire tender document at multiple places. There is no preference is given to an Indian OEM under the ‘Make in India’ Policy,” it added.

However, the NCRB responded to this saying MSMEs don’t need to pay the earnest money deposit of Rs 40 lakh, which other firms interested in bidding for the tender must pay. It also said start-ups recognised by the government don’t need to meet the criteria of having a turnover of Rs 50 crore each in the last three financial years.

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