The Indian Railways is using biometric token machines at 7 railway stations, including Lucknow Junction, Ahmedabad, Mumbai Central and Bandra Terminus, for passengers boarding general coaches in 20 major trains, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal informed Lok Sabha on February 5. The other stations where such systems have been installed are Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus and Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Mumbai, and in Gorakhpur Junction.

He said that the biometric systems were being used for “better queue management”, so that seating in general coaches is available on first-come-first-serve basis. Goyal also said that reservation of seats is not being done by biometric systems outside general coaches, when asked about it by BJP MP Ram Shankar Katheria.

Goyal did not specify what kind of biometric information — fingerprints, facial data, iris scan, etc — are used by the systems to authenticate passengers. However, a report in The Hindu from July 2019 said that biometric systems installed at the Mumbai Central and Bandra Terminus railway stations scan fingerprints of passengers before issuing them tokens. The report also said that the Western Railways is planning to procure biometric systems which can capture photos along with fingerprints.

Storage, sharing of data unclear: It was also not clear from Goyal’s response as to where the biometric data collected by such systems is being stored, or if it would be shared with other government agencies, or third parties. It is worth mentioning that such systems are operational when India doesn’t have a data protection law. Moreover, the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which is currently being deliberated upon by a Joint Parliamentary Committee, has carved out exemptions for government agencies to adhere to provisions of the Bill.

Indian Railways plans to install facial recognition systems: Also, earlier this year, we reported that the Indian Railways is in the process of installing Video Surveillance Systems (VSS), equipped with a facial recognition system, in 983 railway stations across the country. In fact, South Western Railway is planning to implement this system at its railway stations from February 2020.

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