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Facial recognition at airports optional, data will not be shared with anyone: Ministry of Civil Aviation

Passengers who do not want to avail the Digi Yatra services will be given a choice, the Ministry assured Parliament.

As the Indian government works on introducing facial recognition in airports in the country, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, while responding to a question in the Lok Sabha, clarified that passengers will have the option to opt out of the surveillance system.

Gen (retd) VK Singh, Minister of State in the Ministry of Civil Aviation said that as part of the 1st phase of Digi Yatra, the facial recognition technology-based biometric boarding system was being introduced at four domestic airports including Varanasi, Pune, Kolkata, and Vijayawada. Those who opt out of the facial recognition-based boarding system can use the existing manual process at these particular airports.

The government has been pushing to implement facial recognition technology at various locations including examination centres and railway stations. It is important to note that these programmes are being implemented when India does not have legislation in place to regulate the usage of personal data.

An app will be used for capturing facial biometrics: Ministry of Civil Aviation

For availing Digi Yatra services, a component of which is the facial recognition-based boarding system, one has to send their travel details including facial biometrics, PNR number, Pax details, and so on to an app, the minister said. This information will be received by the biometric boarding system of the respective airport, Singh added in his response in the Parliament.

Moreover, if for a particular journey, the passenger does not want to avail the Digi Yatra services then the passenger has an option to not send the data and use existing manual process at airports — Gen (retd) VK Singh, Minister of State in MoCA

Moreover, Singh informed that when a passenger would share their data it would be used “for the purpose defined and would not be shared with any external stakeholder“. Singh also said that the passenger data will not be retained for more than 24 hours after the departure of the flight.

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Independent teams to assess the security of Digi Yatra ecosystem

The Digi Yatra Central Ecosystem envisages assessments (by independent teams to assess the level of security and system resilience to protect PII) and periodic audits by governing/regulatory bodies e.g. CERT-IN and/or STQC etc., twice every year.

Singh also claimed that the facial recognition that was being introduced was as per “industry ISO standards”, and with algorithms “complying to data privacy and data protection requirement as laid down by government”.

NEC Corporation to deploy facial recognition

Singh also confirmed in the Parliament that NEC Corporation Private Limited was selected for implementing facial recognition-based biometric boarding at Varanasi, Pune, Kolkata, and Vijayawada airports. This was earlier reported by the Hindu.

The selection of the vendor was done through an open tender process. “Name of tender is “Selection of Managed Service Provider (MSP) for Designing, Development, Testing, Implementation, and O&M of E-Boarding – Biometric Boarding System (BBS)” with tender id 2018_AAI_16909_1,” Singh said.

“Our focus is on creating a technology which accurately (99.99%) identifies people and delivers services to them. We are also working with some banks to create finer print supported money transfer systems for bank employees,”’ Pradeep Kushwaha, the head of public safety at NEC Corporation Private Limited was quoted by The Hindu as saying.

Trials for facial recognition was held at 6 airports

Earlier, while responding to another question during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, Singh had informed that the project was at a trial stage and that it was being done at six domestic airports — Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune, Varanasi, and Vijayawada.

Singh had said, “The project is currently at the trial stage and will be implemented across other airports in a phased manner upon successful completion.” He also added that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) will invest around ₹25,000 crores in the next 4 to 5 years for the expansion and development of existing and new terminals, using modern technology.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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