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Merkley, Kennedy: Airlines may be monitoring passengers through in-flight entertainment systems

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In a bipartisan letter this week to the CEOs of eight major airlines, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and John Kennedy (R-LA) raised alarms about recent reports that airlines may be using in-flight entertainment systems to spy on passengers.
As CNN reported earlier this month, some in-flight entertainment systems now contain cameras that could be used to spy on passengers while they fly. This development raises new privacy concerns in air travel.
”We are alarmed by reports that airlines may be using cameras on in-flight entertainment systems to monitor passengers,” the Senators wrote. ”Should these reports of the use of undisclosed cameras on in-flight entertainment systems be true, it would be a serious breach of privacy. American passengers deserve to know that their privacy is protected while flying.”
”While Americans have an expectation that they are monitored in airports as a necessary security measure, the notion that in-flight cameras may monitor passengers while they sleep, eat, or have private conversations is troubling. Further, in light of data breaches that have impacted many major airlines, we have misgivings that cameras or sensors may not employ the necessary security measures to prevent them from being targeted by cybercriminals,” they continued.
Merkley and Kennedy requested that eight major American airlines-Delta, Southwest, Frontier, United, Spirit, American, JetBlue, and Alaska-provide the following information within 30 days:
Does your airline currently use, or has ever used, cameras or sensors to monitor passengers;
If yes, what purpose do the cameras serve and in what circumstances may the cameras be activated;
If you have or currently do utilize cameras or sensors to monitor passengers, please provide details on how passengers are informed of this practice;
Please provide comprehensive data on the number of cameras and sensors used by your fleet, and the type of information that is collected or recorded, how it is stored, and who within your airline is responsible for the review and safekeeping of this information; Further to the above, please confirm what security measures you have in place to prevent data breaches of this information, or hacking of the cameras themselves; and are the cameras used in any biometric identity capacity, and if so, under what authority?
The full text of their letter follows:
Dear Airline Executives:
We write today to express concern regarding a CNN article from March 2, 2019, entitled ”Can Airplane Seat Cameras Spy on Passengers?” We are alarmed by reports that airlines may be using cameras on in-flight entertainment systems to monitor passengers. Should these reports of the use of undisclosed cameras on in-flight entertainment systems be true, it would be a serious breach of privacy. American passengers deserve to know that their privacy is protected while flying.
While Americans have an expectation that they are monitored in airports as a necessary security measure, the notion that in-flight cameras may monitor passengers while they sleep, eat, or have private conversations is troubling. Further, in light of data breaches that have impacted many major airlines, we have misgivings that cameras or sensors may not employ the necessary security measures to prevent them from being targeted by cybercriminals.
For these reasons, we respectfully request that the following information be provided regarding the cameras on in-flight entertainment systems:
• Does your airline currently use, or has ever used, cameras or sensors to monitor passengers;
• If yes, what purpose do the cameras serve and in what circumstances may the cameras be activated;
• If you have or currently do utilize cameras or sensors to monitor passengers, please provide details on how passengers are informed of this practice;
•  Please provide comprehensive data on the number of cameras and sensors used by your fleet, and the type of information that is collected or recorded, how it is stored, and who within your airline is responsible for the review and safekeeping of this information;
• Further to the above, please confirm what security measures you have in place to prevent data breaches of this information, or hacking of the cameras themselves; and
• Are the cameras used in any biometric identity capacity, and if so, under what authority?
We look forward to learning more about these practices and request a response within 30 days.