Being watched as we fly

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

We are used to having cameras in buses and trains monitoring the activities of passengers. We are told that it is there because of security issues so that anyone being aggressive, damaging items around them or making themselves a nuisance can be prosecuted.

Now, and in the future, there are likely to be cameras on planes watching what happens during flights. Except that unlike trains and buses, where the cameras are clearly visible being attached (usually) to the ceilings) the cameras on planes are to be found in the back-of-seat entertainment systems. It also appears that you and I have no control over whether they are watching you or not.

Why are they there?

Is it just for security purposes or is there another reason?

The media carried a story that Cathay Pacific has changed its privacy rules to inform passengers that there are cameras on board its planes. This is confirmed by looking at Cathay Pacific’s privacy notice as posted on its website. It says

“Information such as previous travel arrangements, feedback about your experiences, details of lost luggage and other claims, your use of our inflight entertainment system and inflight connectivity, your images captured via CCTV in our airport lounges and aircraft, your use of our cargo services including details of the cargo shipments, and your purchase of our duty free products and branded items.”

But Cathay said last week that it did not have cameras in its back-of-seat entertainment just in the lounges, planes and other places. Virtually anything you do with Cathay Pacific is recorded.

But Cathay Pacific isn’t the only airline using this technology which is supplied by Panasonic Avionics. Singapore Airlines has the same system installed in its aircraft as do American, Delta, Japan and United Airlines. Singapore says it hasn’t activated its cameras and has no intention of doing so.

This story first began last February when a blogger, Vitaly Kamluk spotted a lens in his entertainment system and posed the question as to why it was there.. Since then privacy advocates have raised concerns and airlines have been denying the cameras are activated.

But if the story is six months old why am I raising it now?

The reason is because Cathay Pacific has had its data hacked twice in the last six months and passenger details may have been compromised. If these cameras are activated – and why have them if they are not to be used – then given the security systems that some airlines seem to have, I am concerned about where the data might end up.

Now the airline is facing a tough time given the length that the weekend demonstrations in Hong Kong have lasted. Passenger numbers are down and their shares are at a ten-year low. At this point they might consider using the data they could collect to sign commercial deals with third parties.

We share a lot of data with airlines. They have passport details, credit card information, some ages, flight details, extras that we buy and upgrades we claim, duty free purchases, whether we have special diets and far more information than any other single industry has. That is why I am concerned that given the airline’s current woes it might seek a quick fix.

Doing that will not endear itself to future passengers

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