India’s Growing Surveillance State

New Technologies Threaten Freedoms in the World’s Largest Democracy

Women queue to enroll for national identification cards in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan, February 2013. Mansi Thapliya / Reuters

In December 2019, as protests against a controversial new citizenship law swept India, three incidents in different parts of the country revealed the state’s growing powers of surveillance. In Delhi, police officers used facial recognition devices to screen individuals entering a protest venue. In Chennai, surveillance drones circled above a protest march. And in Hyderabad, police stopped a pedestrian and fingerprinted him to check for “past criminal activity.” 

While surveillance technology has proliferated in India over the last decade, institutional and legal safeguards have not kept pace. The Indian Parliament has yet to enact a data protection law, and the courts have failed to adequately grapple with the ethical and constitutional challenges posed by invasive new technologies. The Indian public, for its part, has largely shrugged off the steady creep of the surveillance state, which now collects huge amounts of data in a legal and judicial vacuum—and at times

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