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    Privacy Concerns Cloud Digi Yatra Expansion, Open Dialogue Needed for Transparency: IFF to Digi Yatra Foundation

    The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has urged the Digi Yatra Foundation (DYF) to conduct open-door and transparent discussions over privacy and surveillance concerns associated with the Digi Yatra facility, in response to the latter’s invitation to a private conversation with the CEO Suresh Khadakbhavi.

    In an email conversation with the DYF, IFF also called for a pause on the organisation’s plans to extend Digi Yatra operations—across more Indian airports and hotel and transport services—until existing issues are addressed.

    “DigiYatra, and the manner in which it has been deployed, has posed risks to passenger privacy, safety, and dignity, and affected the Indian public at large since its conception. DigiYatra operates in the absence of an active data protection law,” IFF highlighted.

    Recently, DYF CEO Suresh Khadakbhavi informed The Hindu that the facial recognition-based Digi Yatra, a ticketless boarding facility for air travellers, could now be expanded to hotels and tourism. This expansion aims to enable the creation of a travel stack. He added that the facility could also be implemented for rail travel, and the same is being discussed with the Ministry of Railways. Read more about the expansion plan here.

    Why DYF must publicly address questions about privacy and passenger safety?

    Since its implementation, the Digi Yatra project has received criticism due to ambiguities about user data collection, storage location of such data, and the parties that have access to passenger data. From uninformed registrations to alleged non-consensual collection of pictures, Digi Yatra has only resulted in confusion among travellers at several Indian airports.

    In response to Niti Aayog’s 2022 draft discussion paper titled ‘Responsible AI for All: Adopting the Framework – A use case approach on Facial Recognition Technology’, IFF had cautioned against the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) for Digi Yatra over concerns regarding failure and unreliability of FRT systems. It added that technical errors caused by such systems will only undermine user privacy and ultimately cause inconvenience to the travellers.

    It is important to note that even amidst a host of uncertainties, one cannot seek information about Digi Yatra under Right to Information as DYF is a private non-profit body of participating airports. The Digi Yatra project is an initiative undertaken by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MCA), but it’s noteworthy that the Ministry does not provide any budgetary support for its implementation. Instead, the expenditure is borne by Airport Operators, according to the Ministry’s press release in February 2023.

    Recently, Digi Yatra Foundation switched to a new app forcing passengers at airports to delete the old app and download a new one because of system upgrades. Since then, the company has been facing serious allegations regarding user surveillance, risking the security of over 4.5 million passengers’ data. A recent investigation by a technologist, published on X, has revealed several operational ambiguities within the Digi Yatra ecosystem, raising questions about data access and control over registered users’ information. Read MediaNama’s detailed explainer on the allegations and all unanswered questions here. MediaNama’s attempts at gaining clarity over these questions from DYF have remained unsuccessful.

    At a time when DYF is undertaking projects to expand its operations, DYF must prioritise addressing the issues brought forth by digital rights groups and customers for transparency and accountability.

    Also Read:

    The post Privacy Concerns Cloud Digi Yatra Expansion, Open Dialogue Needed for Transparency: IFF to Digi Yatra Foundation appeared first on MEDIANAMA.

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