Airports have been advised to ensure that registration of air travellers for the Digi Yatra initiative, which provides digital processing of passengers at various checkpoints with the help of a face scan, is “completely voluntary”, Minister for Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia wrote in response to a letter from TMC MP Saket Gokhale following complaints from passengers.
“The issue raised by you has been examined and airport operators have been advised to sensitise Digi buddies on consent taking process and keeping use of Digi Yatra completely voluntary,” Mr. Scindia said in his letter on January 24. Digi buddies are staff hired by airports to assist passengers to enrol for Digi Yatra.
Trinamool Congress MP Saket Gokhale wrote to Mr. Scindia after he received several complaints from air travellers that their “biometrics were being sneakily taken without their consent”. The Hindu also reported on January 5 about widespread concern among passengers that their facial biometrics were being recorded by airport staff in a “coercive and deceptive” manner without their consent or knowledge.
In his letter, the Minister also explained that consent of passengers was a prerequisite for recording facial biometric data at the time of registration. He reiterated that the data is purged from the airport systems within 24 hours of flight departure.
The Digi Yatra initiative, currently being implemented at 13 airports, involves a mobile app where passengers can register with the help of their Aadhaar and a selfie so that they can use their face as a boarding pass at various checkpoints at an airport.
Questions have been raised about lack of safeguards to ensure privacy and the Digi Yatra policy allowing any security or government agency access to passenger data as well as changing the data purge settings based on “security requirements” as well as loopholes that could lead to third parties acquiring passenger data.
Earlier this week, the Minister also held a advisory group meeting with various airports where the strategy to implement Digi Yatra for international travel was discussed.