10 April 2004
Associated Press, April 9, 2004
WASHINGTON, April 9 (AP) - American Airlines became the third United States carrier to acknowledge giving passenger records to the government.
American, the world's largest airline, said Friday that in June 2002 it shared approximately 1.2 million passenger itineraries with the Transportation Security Administration and, inadvertently, four research companies vying for contracts with the agency.
The airline, part of the AMR Corporation, said it agreed to provide the T.S.A. with the information "because of the heightened interest in aviation security at the time and American's desire to ensure its passenger and crew safety" after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when two of its planes were hijacked.
The passenger data was turned over to the T.S.A. by Airline Automation, a revenue management technology provider hired by American. Then, at the behest of the T.S.A. and without American's consent, Airline Automation shared the passenger data with the four research companies - HNC Software; Infoglide Software; Ascent Technology; and Lockheed Martin - John Hotard, an American spokesman, said.
Mr. Hotard said American only recently became aware of the situation after conducting a review prompted by similar disclosures by JetBlue Airways and Northwest Airlines.
A nationwide computer system aimed at screening all airline passengers is being developed by the T.S.A. The system will check things like credit reports and compare passenger names with those on government watch lists.
Then, in January, Northwest said it had given passenger records covering October to December 2001 to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for a study on passenger screening.
NASA kept the records for about two years, returning them to Northwest shortly after JetBlue's disclosure.
"This underscores the fact that there's now a privacy crisis within the airline industry, largely driven by government demands for passenger data," said David Sobel, general counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.
The Transportation Department is investigating the Northwest matter and there are class-action lawsuits pending against JetBlue.