India’s Major Temples Embrace Facial Recognition Amid Privacy Concerns and Legal Uncertainty

Featured & Cover India's Major Temples Embrace Facial Recognition Amid Privacy Concerns and Legal Uncertainty

Several of India’s largest temples, including the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain, and Venkateswara Swami Temple in Tirupati, have embraced facial recognition technology to manage their vast numbers of worshippers. This technology captures data on tens of thousands of daily visitors, raising concerns about privacy and surveillance in the absence of clear regulations.

At the Venkateswara Swami Temple, for instance, devotees are photographed upon entry, with their details cross-checked against registration information. According to L.M. Sandeep, TTD’s general manager for information technology, the system aims to prevent criminal entry and eliminate exploitation by middlemen who charge for expedited temple access and accommodation services.

Critics like Disha Verma from the Internet Freedom Foundation argue that facial recognition technology is inherently flawed and raises serious privacy concerns, particularly when used without robust legal frameworks. They warn of potential misuse of data, especially in a country where similar technologies have been deployed for law enforcement purposes, often with discriminatory outcomes.

India has rapidly adopted facial recognition technology since 2018, with systems deployed across various states in public spaces, schools, and even temples. Concerns about its accuracy and the lack of transparency regarding data storage and usage persist, despite some legislative efforts like India’s Data Protection Law, which has yet to be fully enforced.

The inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya marked a significant moment, symbolizing a shift towards integrating AI technology into religious sites for enhanced security. However, critics argue that such measures could lead to increased surveillance and potential misuse of data, particularly in a politically charged environment where religious sentiments are mobilized during elections.

The Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain, witnessing massive footfall daily, introduced AI-enabled facial recognition in 2023 to manage crowds effectively. Similarly, other states have explored schemes linking temple visits with government subsidies, raising further concerns about privacy and the possible targeting of minority groups.

While India’s parliament passed its first data protection law in 2023, its implementation remains pending, leaving privacy rights vulnerable to technological advancements like facial recognition. Contrastingly, countries like China have begun drafting laws to restrict private use of such technologies and safeguard personal data, highlighting the global debate on surveillance and privacy rights.

In the absence of clear guidelines and accountability, the deployment of facial recognition in temples and other public spaces continues to be contentious. Legal challenges have been mounted, although outcomes remain pending, reflecting the broader uncertainty and concerns regarding privacy in the digital age.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Related Stories