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Are non-DigiYatra fliers also being photographed?

Many are complaining their pictures are being taken at all gates, and without their consent.
Last Updated : 13 June 2024, 23:38 IST

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Many passengers are raising concerns about DigiYatra, saying its facial recognition service is being used even for passengers who have not opted for it.

DigiYatra is a facial recognition-backed check-in service at Indian airports. Organisations like the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) and activists have been raising privacy concerns about it. A recent social media interaction between Air Vistara and a passenger has intensified the concerns. Responding to a query by a passenger flying from Hyderabad, Air Vistara said photos of all passengers are taken at the boarding gates regardless of whether they were opting for DigiYatra. The Hyderabad airport authorities denied following such a practice. (see box)

Increased complaints

Since December 2023, such complaints are being heard from across India, including airports like Bengaluru, Delhi, and Hyderabad, says Disha Verma, associate policy counsel, IFF.

“Vistara’s first response only went on to confirm what we have been suspecting about DigiYatra. Especially since December and January, many cases have been reported of people being coerced into using the service. There have been instances where passenger’s photos were taken under the DigiYatra service, without them having the option of saying ‘no’,” she adds.

DigiYatra is currently available at 13 airports such as Bengaluru, New Delhi, Varanasi, Vijayawada, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. Fourteen new airports are currently in the process of adopting DigiYatra.

“On paper this is a voluntary service. But the non-transparency with which it is carried out is questionable. Often passengers aren’t aware that they have signed up for DigiYatra,” says Disha.

Bengaluru International Airport Limited has not received such complaints. “The facial recognition is only used on DigiYatra passengers. Plus, as DigiYatra lines are separate, it is unlikely that photos are taken of passengers who have not signed up,” a source says.

Privacy breach

Advocate and public policy expert Apar Gupta flags DigiYatra’s unethical method of storing, and sharing facial data. “The concern is that essentially you are unaware of how your personal data will be used. DigiYatra’s privacy policy potentially allows for your data to be used by the organisation running it and even third parties,” he says.

DigiYatra is operated by the Digi Yatra Foundation, a private company which is not covered under the Right to Information Act 2005. “So there is limited accountability and transparency in case of data breaches. This is concerning as India does not have an active data protection law,” says Disha.

What happened at Hyderabad airport?

Last week, a passenger flying Air Vistara from Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad, noticed airport staff taking photos of all passengers on the flight from Hyderabad to Bengaluru. He questioned the airline on X.

The airline responded: “We wish to inform you that the cameras placed on the boarding gates is for the DigiYatra process, and the same is applicable for all customers.” It added: “As checked with the airport team we wish to confirm that pictures of all customers are taken.” 

Vistara later posted on the same thread that cameras placed under DigiYatra did not fall under the airline's purview.

The Hyderabad airport authorities said the facial recognition was being used only for DigiYatra passengers and that the screens do not take or store any photos.

Air Vistara declined to comment on DH's queries.

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Published 13 June 2024, 23:38 IST

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