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DigiYatra: Balancing Convenience and Privacy in the Age of Facial Recognition

Have you used the DigiYatra app for faster airport check-ins?  Recently, there’s been a buzz around its data privacy practices. Let’s break it down.

The DigiYatra Controversy: Convenience vs. Privacy

DigiYatra uses facial recognition for smoother boarding, but questions have been raised. Reports suggest concerns about user surveillance, data security for millions of passengers, and even how the app itself changed.  Imagine having to download a whole new app just for an "upgrade"!

The European Example: Striking a Balance

While India’s Data Protection Act (DPDPA) is here, the enforcement body (DPBI) is yet to be established.  In the meantime, let’s look at Europe’s approach. The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) weighed in on facial recognition tech (FRT) at airports. They acknowledged the risk FRT poses to our privacy but also offered solutions.

EDPB’s Options: Keeping Your Face Secure

The EDPB proposed options for storing facial data, with only the first two considered acceptable:

On Your Device: This gives you complete control. Your facial data stays on your phone, used only to verify your identity (like unlocking your phone with your face).

Airport Storage (Limited Time): The airport stores your data securely, but only you have the key to unlock it. This again verifies your identity, and the data gets deleted after a set period, like a year after your last trip. ?

The other options, storing data centrally with airlines or for longer periods, raised red flags for the EDPB.

What This Means for India

The EDPB report is a great example of balancing convenience with data protection.  Hopefully, India’s privacy regulators will adopt a similar approach, ensuring a secure and user-friendly DigiYatra experience.

Key Takeaways: Protecting Your Digital Footprint

Be aware of how apps collect and use your data.

Look for options that give you control over your facial data.

Support policies that balance security with convenience.

In my opinion it is the Case of Digital Surveillance and a Potential Policy Infringement

Even if you do not opt for Digiyatra still the staff of Airport and Digiyatra will take your photo before letting you pass with small chit of barcode which they keep. From a privacy standpoint, DigiYatra’s facial recognition system raises serious concerns.  The Indian Constitution, under Article 21, guarantees the Right to Privacy.  This right protects us from unreasonable government intrusions into our personal lives.  DigiYatra, a private organization, collecting and storing facial data could be seen as an infringement on this right.

There’s also the question of policy.  The Data Protection Act (DPDPA) lays the groundwork for data privacy regulations, but the enforcement body, the DPBI, isn’t operational yet.  This lack of a proper oversight mechanism creates a grey area for private organizations like DigiYatra.

While DigiYatra aims to streamline travel and option should be given and shouldn’t become another AADHAR scheme which would mandate each person to leave their footprints every time you pass, it shouldn’t come at the expense of our fundamental rights and established policies. We need clear regulations and robust oversight to ensure a balance between convenience and privacy.

By understanding these issues, we can ensure that advancements like DigiYatra don’t come at the cost of our privacy.  After all, a smooth airport experience shouldn’t mean sacrificing your digital footprint!  ??

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