Telangana govt denies surveillance snooping on citizens

Integrated Twin towers of the Hyderabad Police department under construction

Will there be a 1998 Will Smith and Gene Hackman starrer “Enemy of the State”, scenario in the hi-tech city of Hyderabad?

The film shot in the backdrop of NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, in the aftermath of 9/11 gave us the glimpse of mass data collection far more than the public knowledge. It is believed that the Hyderabad’s ‘Smart Policing’ Project is nothing but a mass surveillance programme in disguise that too without any major cybersecurity or privacy protection.

According to Data Security Researcher Kodali Srinivas, the government has a 360 degree view of citizens with the help of facial recognition used by the police. He says that the government has requested the election commission for cleansing of data of all the voters, with the help of facial recognition and all this to be integrated with the “Samagra Vedika” an integrated database of all Telangana citizens at one place.

The fear of a no holds barred citizen’s data availability to the authorities’ stems out of the recent statement of the city police commissioner Anjani Kumar that the Integrated People Information Hub (IPIH) project has been transferred to the Information Technology department. The authorities however assured that the data access is highly restricted.

“The Integrated Data or Samagra Vedika project is nothing but an amalgamation of different pieces of data available with different departments into one. This effort is aimed at benefitting the poor who were unable to receive benefits aimed for them,” G.T.Venkateswara Rao, commissioner “Meeseva” a state government e-Seva platform said. The official said that states like Madhya Pradesh and Haryana also built similar platforms.

What is IPIH  

Is a smart policing mechanism that links CCTV footage, fingerprints data, call data records, citizen’s profile, and date of birth, mobile numbers, and Voter ID and Aadhar numbers. The individual citizen details including the financial status, assets and bank account details have been collected through “Samagra Kutumba Survey” by the K Chandrasekhar Rao government.

The city police after the twin blasts in 2007 and later the Dilsukhnagar blasts in 2013 adopted a series of robust surveillance measures such as setting up CCTV cameras at every nook and corner making the city one of the most “watched” city in the country. The number of these snoop cameras is bound to reach the one lakh mark very soon. Hyderabad city police are also the first in the country to wear body cameras streaming live footage that can be used for facial recognition of a criminal, by matching with the police data bank.

Analysts say that lack of data sharing between the centre and the states is forcing stats like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana build their own state grids without proper safe guards.

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