Friday, August 12, 2005

Court dismiss Jet Blue privacy suit

A court in New York has thrown out a privacy lawsuit against JetBlue airways over their controversial disclosure of passenger details to the government as raw material to test a data mining system. EPIC have some background information on their involvement in chasing the government for details of why the information was handed over and how it was used.

In September 2003, JetBlue Airways confirmed that it had provided 5 million passenger itineraries, without the passengers' consent, to defense contractor Torch Concepts to test the feasibility of an Army data mining project. Torch Concepts added to the JetBlue data information it purchased from Acxiom, a large consumer research company. This information included passengers' Social Security numbers, occupations, income, gender, home ownership, car ownership, and the number of adults and children living in the passengers' households.

On February 20, 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Privacy Office released a report (pdf) on the JetBlue disclosure which said that in 2002 officials of Torch Concepts met with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials. After this meeting, a TSA employee sent JetBlue a written request asking the airline to provide passenger data to the Defense Department for use in the Torch Concepts study. The report found that TSA employees involved "acted without appropriate regard for individual privacy interests or the spirit of the Privacy Act of 1974," but that no violation of the law had occurred.

In April 2004, American Airlines' parent corporation issued a press release admitting that an American Airlines vender had turned over passenger travel data to four research companies vying for contracts with TSA.

In April 2004, EPIC received documents from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in response to a FOIA request. One document (pdf) stated that Northwest Airlines "gave the FBI one year's [passenger] data on 6000 CDs."

To learn the extent of the government's passenger data collection scheme, and to determine whether passenger data might have been collected for purposes of developing the controversial second-generation Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), EPIC ultimately sent four expedited Freedom of Information Act requests to TSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking information on passenger data disclosure from any airline since September 11, 2001, as well as records relating to Acxiom, Torch Concepts, and SRS Technologies (the primary contractor in the Defense Department project).

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