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Digi Yatra Not Under RTI as Run by a Private 'Non-Profit Body': Ministry of Civil Aviation

Facial recognition technology (as Digi Yatra) was introduced at airports in December 2022. Serious concerns related to the use of facial recognition technology – its storage, sharing and security as well as privacy of travellers – have been expressed, especially as there is no data protection regime. 

New Delhi: Information about Digi Yatra cannot be sought via the Right to Information or an RTI application, as the Ministry of Civil Aviation has said that Digi Yatra does not come under the purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

This was discovered by MediaNama after it filed an RTI application on it. The Digi Yatra project is being run by a private “non-profit body of participating airports”, called the Digi Yatra Foundation, as per the ministry. “The information sought may be available with Digi Yatra Foundation, however, they do not come under the purview of the RTl Act 2005,” the reply states.

Digi Yatra is an initiative by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to introduce a “biometric boarding system” that uses facial recognition technology for passenger verification at airports. The objective is to streamline the boarding process by eliminating the need for verification of tickets and IDs at multiple checkpoints. The civil aviation ministry has said that the Digi Yatra facility will soon be extended to Kolkata, Pune, Vijayawada and Hyderabad airports this month, and further expansion is to be expected. The project was launched in December 2022, starting with Delhi, Bangalore and Varanasi airports.

There are concerns expressed by activists and analysts related to the use of facial recognition technology – its storage, sharing and security as well as privacy of travellers – especially in the absence of a data protection regime.

Photo: Twitter/@nixxin

The Internet Freedom Foundation has highlighted the challenges that come with Digi Yatra in terms of privacy and the lack of laws to govern these systems.

Srinivas Kodali had written in The Wire that “the real concern to anyone who is being subjected to facial recognition of any kind should be the proliferation of this technology. The threat to individual privacy is limited when compared to how this technology could affect an entire society. The power of facial recognition is immense and could be easily misused by surveillance agencies as we see it happening already in cities where police are forcing people to collect their photographs.”