Centre’s Digi Yatra Initiative: Enrolment Surge Amidst Consent Controversy

The Digi Yatra initiative, launched by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in 2022, is a biometric boarding system that uses facial recognition technology to provide a seamless and hassle-free experience for air travellers. The initiative aims to eliminate the need for verification of ticket and ID at multiple touch points and to achieve better throughput through existing infrastructure using a digital framework.

Enrolment Process and Benefits

To enrol for Digi Yatra, passengers need to create a Digi Yatra ID in a central system by providing their name, email ID, mobile number and details of identity proof such as voter ID, driving license or Aadhaar. On submission, a Digi Yatra ID will be generated, which can be quoted while booking the ticket. The passenger data, including the Digi Yatra ID, will be passed on to the departure airport by the airlines.

On the first travel, the passenger has to go to a registration kiosk at the airport for validating the ID. In case of Aadhaar, the verification will be online. In case of other IDs, CISF will manually verify. On successful verification, the photo of the passenger will be added to the Digi Yatra profile in the central system.

At the entry point of the airport, the passenger will scan their boarding pass or e-ticket (print or soft copy in mobile). The system will validate the passenger details and flight details. The Digi Yatra ID will verify the identity by face recognition. On successful verification of ticket and Digi Yatra ID, an e-gate will open. Also, the face with ticket PNR will be made into a single token for the rest of the journey at the airport.

Passenger will gain entry to security area and aircraft boarding through e-gates operated on facial recognition system.

The benefits of Digi Yatra include:

  • No need to show boarding pass or ID at multiple check points
  • Minimum human intervention
  • Less queuing time
  • Enhanced security as only bona fide passengers will be allowed entry at every check point
  • Real time information on passenger load and resource planning for airport operators
  • Better passenger position tracking for airlines
  • Enhanced airport throughput

Implementation Status and Roadmap

Digi Yatra is being implemented across airports in a phased manner. In the first phase, Digi Yatra was launched on 01.12.2022 at Delhi, Bangalore and Varanasi airports for providing passengers contactless, paperless check-in and boarding process based on facial biometrics.

The implementation of Digi Yatra under phase I is also planned at Kolkata, Pune, Vijayawada and Hyderabad airports by March 2023 and across various airports in the country in phased manner.

The Digi Yatra central platform has been built by Dataevolve Solutions, a start-up selected through a national challenge run by Niti Aayog under the Atal Innovation Mission.

Consent Controversy

While Digi Yatra promises to offer convenience and efficiency to air travellers, it also raises concerns about privacy and data protection. The use of facial recognition technology involves collection, storage and processing of sensitive personal data of passengers, which may pose risks of data breaches, misuse or abuse.

Some of the issues that have been raised by civil society groups and experts are:

  • Lack of clarity on data retention policy: How long will the passenger data be stored in the central system? Who will have access to it and for what purposes?
  • Lack of consent mechanism: How will passengers be informed about their rights and choices regarding their data? How will they be able to opt out or withdraw their consent if they change their mind?
  • Lack of data protection law: India does not have a comprehensive data protection law that can regulate the collection, use and disclosure of personal data by public and private entities. The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 is still pending in Parliament.
  • Lack of accountability and oversight: Who will be responsible for ensuring compliance with data protection principles and standards? What are the remedies available for passengers in case of any violation or harm?

These issues have led to some passengers expressing their reluctance or resistance to enrol for Digi Yatra or use it at airports. Some have also filed petitions in courts challenging the legality and constitutionality of the initiative.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation has maintained that Digi Yatra is a voluntary facility and that passengers can choose not to use it if they are not comfortable. It has also claimed that there is no central storage of passenger’s personally identifiable information (PII) data and that all the data is encrypted and stored in the wallet of the passenger’s smartphone and shared only for a limited time duration with the airport of travel origin where passenger’s Digi Yatra ID needs to be validated. The data is purged from the system within 24 hours of flight.

However, these claims have been questioned by some experts who have pointed out that the central system does store the passenger’s photo and Digi Yatra ID, which are also PII data. They have also argued that the encryption and deletion of data do not guarantee security and that there is a need for more transparency and accountability in the design and implementation of the initiative.

The debate on Digi Yatra reflects the broader challenges of balancing innovation and privacy in the digital age. As India moves towards becoming a digitally empowered society, it is imperative that the rights and interests of citizens are protected and respected in the process.



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