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GoI confirms use of facial recognition to verify SIM card users

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The Indian Communications Ministry has confirmed the use of facial recognition to verify SIM card users in the country. The technology dubbed “Artificial Intelligence and Facial Recognition Powered Solution for Telecom Sim Subscriber Verification” or ‘ASTR’ was created by the department to tackle SIM card fraud and uses subscriber images compared to groups of similar images using facial recognition to pinpoint users.

It uses images of subscribers available in the Customer Acquisition Form (CAF). The communications ministry stated that office memorandums were sent on October 3, 2021, as well as March 11 and August 31, 2022, announcing the technology’s pilot program in Haryana, the hotspots identified by the ministry of home affairs for using the system and the use of facial recognition to identify subscribers respectively.

When asked about what security measures the department is taking in regards to data storage and security, the ministry simply replied that “due security measures by maintaining data in secured server have been adopted”.

The government claims that the system will reduce cybercrime in the country as detecting fraudulent SIMs and re-verification can help law enforcement agencies find the bank and social media accounts linked with the fake SIMs. The offending user can also be traced with the system. 

The system was first implemented in the Mewat region of Haryana, where the system flagged nearly 4.28 lakh SIMs as suspicious, which were subsequently disconnected from their carrier’s networks out of a pool of 16.70 lakh SIMs. 

While the system works well for law enforcement, being better than conventional text-based analysis, it does raise some serious privacy concerned. Outside of taking user consent before scanning their faces, questions around protective measures to secure the data and keep it out of the hands of cybercriminals and hackers have largely been left unanswered. 

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Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: