NEW DELHI — Governments need to take people's privacy into account as more and more countries consider using facial recognition technology to beef up security, said an expert at the World Economic Forum.
Facial recognition software is powerful biometric technology that can identify individuals based on digital images or video frames. Artificial intelligence, high-definition surveillance cameras, and remote sensors have made the technology more powerful and expanded the ways it can be used.
"The problem's really two-fold," Kay Firth-Butterfield, head of artificial intelligence at WEF, told CNBC at the India Economic Summit. "Firstly, with the government use of facial recognition technology and then also with the company use of facial recognition."
The amount of data that can be collected on an individual is massive, and that raises privacy concerns.
But there's also a bigger issue, Firth-Butterfield said. It's about asking, "when does use (of facial recognition technology) by the government amount to security compared to the invasion of our civil liberties."
She added that governments may argue for the use of facial recognition in airports to stop security risks, but questioned: "Do they need it to, for example, follow us from our house to a street demonstration?"
In a report released Friday, WEF said governments have to act to ensure fair and transparent use of facial recognition systems.
They must also include policies that can safeguard individual rights and guide the socially beneficial development of the technology it said. "India has an important role to play to show its political willingness and impetus in doing so."
Unlike other types of biometric data collection, such as fingerprints and iris scanning, facial recognition technology can collect information on people without them being aware of it.
In some instances, people have been wrongly identified and the World Economic Forum says studies have shown facial recognition to be biased and "performing more poorly on people with darker skin tones and on women."
This week, the World Economic Forum was invited to work with India in answering some of those questions around privacy and the use of facial recognition technology.
In June, India's Ministry of Home Affairs, through the National Crime Records Bureau, invited bids to build an automated facial recognition system. The system would allow police to match people's faces — captured on closed circuit cameras — against an existing image database and "generate alerts if a blacklist match is found." That could help to identify criminals, missing persons or even dead bodies.
But the move is said to have angered privacy campaigners because the country's personal data protection laws are not yet up to par with regulation in other regions, such as the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe.
India is also testing the use of facial recognition technology in some airports, including in New Delhi, to facilitate entry into the terminal buildings, during security checks and when boarding the aircraft.
Existing legal frameworks would still allow for the use of technologies such as facial recognition when it comes to security risks, according to Deepankar Sanwalka, advisory leader at PwC India.
"Facial recognition technologies are here to stay, and they will get used," he told CNBC during a separate media briefing, adding that the debate will continue in determining the appropriate use of that technology.