Days after a spate of civilian killings in Kashmir, the Jammu and Kashmir Police has stepped up its effort to install high-resolution cameras with automated facial recognition technology (FRT) across Srinagar.

According to sources in the security grid, there are 300 cameras installed across Srinagar already. However, the police now plan to bring up their need for facial recognition technology.

Sources told India Today that the police force, instead of dipping into its own funds, is looking to collaborate with the Srinagar Municipal Corporation to install the state-of-the-art technology. This is likely to be discussed during the upcoming visit of Union home minister Amit Shah to the union territory.

'Pre-Empting, Preventing Attacks'

States like Telangana and Delhi are already utilising facial recognition systems for surveillance and authentication of identity. A senior officer in the security grid said, “The technology can help in pre-empting and preventing attacks in the future. For instance, if a known over-ground worker steps out, the police personnel in control will be alerted once the name of the suspect emerges from the database. His movement will be tracked and recorded.”

Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Sujit Kumar said, "A taskforce has been formed with the DIGs of the ranges that have been taken on board. We have photographs of terrorists, criminals, stone pelters and over-ground workers. This [FRT] will help us, especially since these suspects tend to hide from us. We hope that we will be able to track down noted terrorists and over-ground workers.”

'More Technical'

Another top official in the Jammu and Kashmir Police said, "After an incident, we usually send images or footage to the Forensic Science Laboratory [FSL] in Gujarat, who aid in tracking down terrorists and criminals. But precious time is lost.''

The J&K Police has its own FSL in Srinagar's Bemina area, which has improved over the years. However, it still does not aid in the detection of suspects. The J&K Police officer said, “The FSL assists in several ways but FRT is more technical and can aid in many more ways.”

J & K Police's Use of Cameras

The current set of 300 cameras in Srinagar is also helping security forces in their battle against terror. Just last week, the police were alerted after two terror suspects were caught on camera in the Jamalta area of the city. They are believed to be part of the module which killed two teachers in Srinagar recently.

In Kashmir, the attack on the son of the owner of Krishna Dhaba was cracked by Srinagar police using CCTV footage and technical assistance. At least one of the killers of Akash Mehra was identified based on his past. Owais Manzoor, identified by the J&K police, was previously involved in another case under Nowgam police station.

Parvaiz Ahmad Qadri, the deputy mayor of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, said, “We are in discussion as to where to deploy such cameras and put up towers. We are here to help law enforcement agencies. The network of cameras needs to be installed especially in old areas where frequent incidents take place. "

India Today has learnt that the tender for these cameras has been allotted to a Delhi-based company which is in the advanced stage of installing such cameras.

How Does FRT Work?

Some facial recognition algorithms identify facial features by extracting landmarks, or features, from an image of the subject's face. For example, an algorithm may analyse the relative position, size, and/or shape of the eyes, nose, cheekbones, and jaw. These features are then used to search for other images with matching features. In advanced cameras, even the body language and gait of a person can be matched.

FRT is generally used by law enforcement agencies to help generate potential investigative leads. But with security agencies now dealing with hybrid modules in which terrorists with no past antecedent of criminal history or terror link are active, this exercise may not eventually work.

Almost 1,500 terrorists, criminals, fugitives, persons of interest or missing persons have been identified since the launch of Interpol’s (International Criminal Police Organisation) facial recognition system at the end of 2016. At least 180 countries have been using this technology, despite the hue and cry over privacy and charges of surveillance.

Drawbacks of FRT

However, there are pitfalls too. Unlike fingerprints and DNA, which do not change during a person’s life, facial recognition has to take into account different factors such as ageing, plastic surgery and cosmetics.

Working with good quality images is also crucial. Low or medium quality images may not be searchable in the system and, if they are, the accuracy of the search and results can be significantly affected.

For now, security forces believe this technology will help them to search and hunt down terrorists.