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Withdraw Digi Yatra Service Completely, IFF Writes to Ministries, NITI Aayog, Airports

The Internet Freedom Foundation has raised privacy and surveillance concerns following reports of “coercion and deception” at Indian airports.
The Internet Freedom Foundation has raised privacy and surveillance concerns following reports of “coercion and deception” at Indian airports.

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI

New Delhi: The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), which works to protect digital rights of Indians, has written a letter to the Civil Aviation Minister, NITI Aayog, Airports Authority of India, Digi Yatra Foundation, and the Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Cochin and Hyderabad regional airports, drawing their attention to the “worrisome implementation” of the Digi Yatra service across airports.

The letter, written on January 12, following reports in the media and social media of passengers complaining of coercion to sign up for Digi Yatra, has flagged grave concerns over privacy, surveillance, exclusion errors and lack of institutional accountability and transparency.

“Digi Yatra’s threats and challenges far outweigh its benefits – there are legitimate privacy concerns arising from its use which have not been satisfactorily addressed,” read the letter, spelling out all its concerns in great detail. It has urged the immediate roll back the Digi Yatra service from airports and “relapse to traditional physical means of passenger verification.”

The IFF has pointed out that Digi Yatra is an “opt-in” service, and not “mandatory”, as some passengers have claimed being told by the those manning the airports.

It also cited an RTI reply by the Ministry that stated “Digi Yatra gates exists in airports for passengers who voluntarily choose to use this facility (sic)…Digi Yatra is not mandatory. The other manual process e-gates continue to be available for passengers.”  The Ministry’s Digi Yatra Biometric Boarding System (“DYBBS”) Policy is also clear in noting that “Creation and use of the Digi Yatra ID Travel Credential by a passenger will be completely voluntary”.

Digi Yatra, according to IFF, is helmed by a special purpose vehicle, the Digi Yatra Foundation, which is tasked with implementing the Digi Yatra Central Ecosystem pursuant to the DYBBS Policy issued by the Ministry. In essence, this is the nodal body responsible for running the service, and therefore the data fiduciary in this instance.

“The Foundation, a private company incorporated under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013 on February 20, 2019, does not fall within the purview of the RTI Act. Even though 26% shareholding lies with public institutions such as the Ministry and Airports Authority of India, the Foundation itself is absolved from any accountability to Indian citizens. This is a worrying circumvention of the RTI Act, and the Foundation is able to stonewall any effort to make its operation transparent,” said the IFF

Read the full letter here.

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