India’s Railway Protection Force (RPF), the national transporter’s security arm, has raised concerns about recent and potential security lapses at railway properties across the country, The Hindustan Times reported. Keeping such threats in mind, Indian Railways has announced plans for a complete overhaul of its security.
An RPF official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the media outlet that “bridge software” (customised employee-management development and integration platform) would be used to link existing tracking and network databases with the FRS.
FRS technology identifies passengers by their face, doing away with the need for boarding passes and other identity documents.
“If we are able to install this across all our major stations, it will be a huge security breakthrough. This is something called preventive policing,” he added.
A pilot project involving FRS was successfully initiated at the railway station in India’s Bengaluru city in July and now at least 200 railway stations across the country have been identified for a “security overhaul”, Indian daily The Hindustan Times quoted RPF Director-General Arun Kumar as saying.
Human rights groups and Internet advocates, however, have warned of potential privacy violations and increased surveillance and described the plan to introduce FRS at railway stations and airports as legally untenable.
“For now, this is completely illegal as there is no legal authority or framework for any such projects which are being tested as well as already deployed in India”, Reuters quoted Apar Gupta, Executive Director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, an NGO that works for online freedom, as saying.
India does not have a law on the protection of privacy, but Indian Railways officials are of the view that FRS is an essential contact-less and widely used non-invasive medium that they cannot afford to ignore given the vulnerability of train stations and passengers to criminals.
That the pilot project at the Bengaluru railway station was successful can be gleaned from the fact that over 200,000 passengers were covered and they were able to identify 32 criminals against RPF database
The Indian Ministry of Railways operates the third-largest railway network in the world in terms of size. The train route length is spread over 115,000 km on which 12,617 passenger trains and 7,421 freight trains travel each day. The trains travel from 7,349 stations and carry 23 million passengers and three million tons of freight daily, according to data provided by the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF).
The railways began experimenting with the technology about six years ago. At the time, technology was not found suitable and had to be retailored for local conditions, officials said.
Introduction of new security-related technology apart, the Indian Railways also aims to implement skill training for RPF personnel to enable them to incorporate behavioural profiling at train stations.