Airport operators have been advised to ensure that passengers are registered for the Digi Yatra initiative only after they consent to it, Minister for Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia has said.

Digi Yatra allows the digital processing of passengers at various checkpoints at airports with the help of facial recognition software. The scheme is voluntary and passengers can opt out of it any time. The initiative was first announced in 2018. The centre has promoted Digi Yatra as being “seamless, contact-less, hasslefree and paperless” to cut down boarding time.

The Digi Yatra Foundation is owned by a private company with just 26% of government shareholding.

On Saturday, Trinamool Congress leader Saket Gokhale said in a social media post that he had written to Scindia after several passengers complained that they had been signed up on the Digi Yatra app without their consent by the airport staff.

“The minister has now informed me that this issue has been taken cognizance of and that personnel at all airports in India have been told to strictly ensure that informed consent is taken for enrolling passengers into Digi Yatra and that the process must be kept completely voluntary,” Gokhale wrote.

In his response dated January 24, Scindia explained that the consent of passengers was a prerequisite for recording facial biometric data at the time of registration. The data is removed from the airport systems within 24 hours of flight departure, he said.

The Digi Yatra initiative was rolled out at seven airports in the first phase – Bengaluru, Delhi and Varanasi starting December 2022 and Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune and Vijayawada by March 2023. It is currently functional at 13 airports.

It involves a Digi Yatra mobile app where passengers can register with the help of their Aadhaar card and a selfie. This information can be used by the passenger as a boarding pass at various checkpoints at an airport.

However, digital rights organisations have raised concerns about the lack of user privacy. According to the Internet Freedom Foundation, the scheme does not have strong fundamental privacy principles necessary for the protection of personal data making it prone to being misused, shared or stolen.

Also read: Facial recognition system rollout at Indian airports raises privacy concerns