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Parliamentary responses reveal how the government thinks of AI regulation

The government doesn’t have plans to regulate AI but claims facial recognition is covered under existing law.

The Indian government has no plans to pass a law or regulate artificial intelligence, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said in response to a question by MP Shyam Yadav Singh in the Lok Sabha on December 8.

Earlier, on December 7, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had responded to a question about the legality of the National Automated Facial Recognition System, by citing the Information Technology Act, 2000 – an answer which was contested by the Internet Freedom Foundation.

The government’s responses in Parliament offer insight into its understanding of the legality around AI and facial recognition tech.

What is the legal basis of the NAFRS?

MPs Manish Tewari and Kesinehi Srinivas specifically asked about the law that allows NAFRS, agencies authorised to use it, guidelines for its use, and the safeguards for wrongful incarceration through it.

In its response, the MHA said that since ‘police’ and ‘public order’ were state subjects, state governments were responsible and competent to act on those matters. It is ‘established practice’ to use and maintain photographs for investigations, and as part of criminal records – for this State and UT governments have their own guidelines, the ministry added.

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On safeguards, the MHA said that “the use of electronic records and information, manner of collection, and storage of personal data including facial recognition, are governed by the Information Technology Act, 2000 and rules framed thereunder”

“The MHA’s response ignores that the IT Act regulates facial recognition + sensitive personal data ONLY for private entities u/ Section 43A and the SPDI Rules, 2011. The government’s use of facial recognition data of its citizens is not covered u/IT Act & is without legal basis,” Vrinda Bhandari, one of IFF’s lawyers, tweeted.

“Using AFRS in the absence of a law will lead to violations of our right to privacy,” the digital rights advocacy group said.

What is the government doing to promote AI?

MeitY laid down nine initiatives the government has taken up to develop various areas of artificial intelligence. These are:

  1. Joining the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), with countries like the USA, UK, France, etc. an initiative to guide the responsible growth and use of AI.
  2. Setting up of Centres of Excellence for innovations in AI.
  3. Launch of National AI Portal, as a ‘repository’ of AI-based initiatives in India.
  4. Start of the National Programme on Responsible Use of AI for Youth to generate AI awareness.
  5. Param Siddhi, a high-performance computing-artificial intelligence (HPC-AI) supercomputer was built by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, under the National Supercomputing mission.
  6. Launch of ‘FutureSkills Prime’ platform for training in Artificial Intelligence.
  7. Initiation of ‘Visvesvaraya PhD scheme’ to increase number of PhDs in IT streams like artificial intelligence.
  8. Launch of an Open Data Governance website, with data of 208 Government departments and ministries. This was developed as the ministry considers Data as the key input for any AI based system, it said in its response.
  9. 25 Technology Innovation Hubs have been set up by the Department for Science and Technology, to promote research in areas like AI.

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I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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