CBI using PhotoDNA
CBI using PhotoDNA

In 2009, Microsoft associated with Hany Farid, a leading digital-imaging expert, and professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, to develop PhotoDNA. This is a technology that aids in finding and removing known images of child abuse. Now, CBI wants the social media websites to use the technology for investigating and surveilling other suspects. This may sound all right at first glance, but there is a negative side to it that you should know about.

What is PhotoDNA?

Microsoft’s PhotoDNA creates a fingerprint-like unique hash for an image. Any number of edits can’t hamper this digital signature on the original photo, which is then compared against other hashes to identify copies. In simpler words, this software can be used to help detect the original, duplicates and altered images.

The primary use-case for PhotoDNA has been to identify and report images related to child exploitation. The technology is used by many organizations and has lead to millions of child exploitation images being reported.Flowchart showing how PhotoDNA works (Source: Microsoft.com)

Flowchart showing how PhotoDNA works (Source: Microsoft.com)The database of hashes is maintained by US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the Internet Watch Foundation and Project Vic. This is securely hosted in the cloud and donated to international law enforcement agencies and big companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Adobe Systems.

PhotoDNA was made with the sole purpose of stopping the victimization caused by redistribution of such photos.

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This is Noble Piece of Tech, So what’s the Problem?

The gripe is with the prying surveillance as the CBI wants these social media giants to scan all photos, not just for curbing child pornographic substance but to assist with other criminal investigations. However, putting all our personal photos under the radar of PhotoDNA will be a breach of our Fundamental right to privacy which was upheld by the Supreme Court of India.

Apar Gupta, an advocate of Internet Freedom has shared his view on this matter to Indian Express:

Its a slippery slope of surveillance and censorship. 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.

We are living in a day and age where privacy is a mere myth. From what we learned from the Cambridge Analytica Scandal and invasive permissions of apps is that a major chunk of our data is collected by tech companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Google. It’s not surprising that even the law enforcement agencies and government enters the muddle when they are meant to respect and safeguard our fundamental right.


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