In order to determine whether subscriber databases maintained by telecom providers contain multiple connections to the same person, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has created a facial recognition technology based on artificial intelligence.

By identifying and preventing potentially fraudulent cell connections, the programme, dubbed Artificial Intelligence and Facial Recognition driven Solution for Telecom SIM Subscriber Verification (ASTR), according to the DoT, might potentially stop cyber frauds.

All telecom operators were required to disclose their subscriber database, which included user photos, with the department, under a DoT directive granted to them in 2012. These pictures make up the main database used by the authorities’ ASTR-based facial recognition system. The DoT unit in Haryana conceptualised and designed the ASTR project between April 2021 and July 2021.

To examine the viability of ASTR, a pilot study was established in the Mewat region of Haryana. Before the ASTR pilot project, there were reportedly close to 5 lakh counterfeit SIMs found among Mewat’s 16.69 lakh total SIMs across all cellular operators.

In a case study article written by DoT’s Naveen Jakhar, it is said that convolutional neural network (CNN) models are used to encode human faces in subscriber photographs in order to account for the tilt and angle of the face, opaqueness, and dark hue of the images.

Then, after comparing each face to every other face in the database, comparable faces are collected under one directory. If two faces match to a degree of at least 97.5 percent, ASTR declares them to be identical. According to Jakhar’s work, using a database of 1 crore photos, ASTR can find all SIMs against a suspected face in less than 10 seconds.

After matching the faces, ASTR’s system employs what it refers to as “fuzzy logic” to identify approximate or similar matches for the subscriber names. If someone were to seek for “Apple Inc.”, for instance, the algorithm would return results such as “Apple Incorporated,” “Apple Park,” “iPhone,” etc. Additionally, it takes into consideration any typos that might have appeared while the subscriber acquisition form was being completed.

A single identity certificate from the DoT is sufficient for nine legal mobile phone connections. In essence, the ASTR searches the database to see whether the same person has obtained SIM cards under several identities and checks if there are more than nine links against a single person’s photo.

Ashwini Vaishnaw, the minister of communications, stated during a news conference on Tuesday (May 16), “In one case, ASTR had detected as many as 6,800 connections against the same image of the subscriber, i.e., the same face, but different names.” In another instance, it was discovered that 5,300 connections had been made against a single image.

The DoT provides telecom providers with a list of connections that need to be blocked whenever it has been confirmed that a particular set of numbers were obtained by individuals via fraudulent means.

According to the Ministry of Communication, more than 40 lakh instances of people using a single photograph to get mobile connections were found during the first phase of an ASTR study of more than 87 million mobile connections. More than 36 lakh connections were terminated by telecom companies after “due verification”.

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