CBI asks Facebook, Twitter to use PhotoDNA, but what is it?

CBI asks Facebook, Twitter to use PhotoDNA, but what is it?

PhotoDNA is a technology developed by Microsoft, to be used exclusively to identify child exploitation images and prevent child pornography

Violating international standards, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has requested social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to use Microsoft's PhotoDNA for investigation into criminal cases. Microsoft-owned PhotoDNA is primarily used in the prevention of child pornography and identify child exploitation images. The CBI request has, yet again, raised questions over government's need to keep a close watch over its people and the privacy rights of an individual.

What is PhotoDNA?

Micosoft has developed PhotoDNA, a free to use technology that compares hash values of images to identify similar images on the web without any human intervention. Microsoft has donated the PhotoDNA technology to Project Vic, managed and supported by the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC). The technology is used by technology companies like Google. Twitter, Facebook and Adobe Systems. Microsoft has restricted the use of this technology beyond the use of identification of child pornography and blocking extremist content in all countries.

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Reasons to worry?

CBI under Section 91 of CrPC has issued notices to social media platforms which said, "For the purpose of investigation, you are requested to conduct PhotoDNA in respect of photographs CBI asks social media firms to use intrusive photo tech to track suspects enclosed herewith. The said information is required very urgently for the purpose of investigation."

The use of PhotoDNA for as a deterrent is in violation with international norms and breach of the indented purpose of the technology. PhotoDNA is exclusively used to identify child exploitation images and its usage for other purposes would mean restriction on free and open internet. The move also violates the right to privacy which is a Fundamental Right.

"If any police or investigative agency is using PhotoDNA for a general crime investigation, it is a massive breach of the intended purpose of this technology, which is only for checking child sex abuse cases. This is the slippery slope of surveillance and censorship," said Apar Gupta, executive director, Internet Freedom Foundation.

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IT experts, on the other hand, are not aware of any legal bar in India for the use of PhotoDNA for cases other than child exploitation, experts have said according to the Indian Express.

The move has come at a time when the world is dealing with privacy related breaches on social media platforms like Facebook. Indian government itself came under the scanner when it asked social platforms like Facebook & WhatsApp to disclose personal information of their users.

Edited By: Udit Verma