Microsoft’s PhotoDNA being used by Indian authorities in criminal investigations

Kareem Anderson

Microsoft’s and Dartmouth College partnered project PhotoDNA software is being tapped by the Central Bureau of Investigation in India for use in investigating and identifying regular criminal cases and violation of international norms.

According to a report from the Indian Express, PhotoDNA has been the figurative magnifier of choice due to its ability to help in “exclusively identify child exploitation images,” for the CBI.

Specifically, when used, PhotoDNA creates a hash or unique digital signature of an image to composite against other photos to find matches in a social media database.

Once an image is matched using PhotoDNA, that image is then paired against previously identified illegal images held by firms such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) or the Internet Watch Foundation to report instances of child exploitation material.

While Microsoft and Dartmouth College’s PhotoDNA has been a point of contention for the European Privacy Regulation as the board has already banned social media companies from using the software as an argument of privacy violations, the CBI used section 91 of CrPC to end-around the resolution. Instead, CBI is specifically asking social media firms to use Microsoft’s PhotoDNA to comb through suspicious account holders.

“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.”

Even though the CBI is issuing a suggestive implementation of PhotoDNA on social media servers, the request may still rub most privacy advocates the wrong way as it violates a Supreme Court held “fundamental” right.

Despite CBI wanting to surveillance suspicious account holders, PhotoDNA software would effectively be implemented across an entire platform and against individuals that were neither charger or suspected in child exploitation.