Merkley, Kennedy Announce Introduction of Bill to Prevent In-Flight Entertainment Systems that Spy on Passengers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following recent reports that airlines could be using in-flight entertainment systems to spy on passengers, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) today announced the introduction of new, bipartisan legislation that would safeguard passengers’ privacy in the air.

The Passenger Privacy Protection Act of 2019 would prohibit airlines from having cameras or microphones embedded in in-flight entertainment systems on any of their aircraft.

“Americans have their personal space invaded enough already when they fly,” said Merkley. “The last thing passengers need to worry about is the idea that airlines or hackers may be spying on them while they eat their pretzels. It’s time to protect Americans’ privacy and get rid of hidden cameras and microphones on airplanes.”

“The need for airport security is understandable, but we need to make sure that we’re not trampling on people’s privacy,” said Kennedy.  “It’s one thing to walk through a metal detector and have your bags searched.  It’s quite another thing to be secretly spied on while you’re having a private conversation.  We shouldn’t take security to absurd levels.”

Merkley and Kennedy also pressed sixteen major international carriers for more information about the current and potential uses of these systems. In a letter to the heads of Qatar Airways, Emirates Airlines, British Airways, Turkish Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Qantas Airlines, Air New Zealand, Ryanair, Air France, Lufthansa Airlines, LATAM, and South African Airways, the Senators requested that the airlines respond with the following information within 30 days:

  1. Does your airline currently use, or have ever used, cameras, microphones, or sensors to monitor passengers;  
  2. If yes, what purpose do the cameras, microphones, or sensors serve and in what circumstances may they be activated;
  3. If you have or currently do utilize cameras, microphones, or sensors to monitor passengers, please provide details on how passengers are informed of this practice;
  4. Please provide comprehensive data on the number of cameras, microphones, 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;
  5. 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, microphones, and sensors themselves; and
  6. Are the cameras used in any biometric identity capacity, and if so, under what authority?

The full text of the Passenger Privacy Protection Act of 2019 can be found here, and the full text of Merkley and Kennedy’s letter to international carriers can be found here.