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Federal Authorities Seek Insight into Airlines’ Handling and Sharing of Passengers’ Personal Data

The government has announced its intention to scrutinize how airlines handle the personal information of their passengers, as well as whether they are profiting from sharing such data with external entities.

On Thursday, Federal officials disclosed plans to assess the practices of the ten largest U.S. airlines concerning the collection, management, and utilization of customer information. The U.S. Department of Transportation stressed the importance of ensuring that passengers’ personal data is safeguarded against improper sharing or mishandling.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg emphasized the necessity for airline passengers to trust that their personal information remains secure. He underscored the significance of preventing unauthorized sharing with third parties or any mishandling by airline personnel.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines (Credits: The Boston Globe)

Responding to the announcement, a spokesperson for Airlines for America, a trade group representing major carriers, reaffirmed the airline’s commitment to protecting customer data. The spokesperson highlighted the robust policies, programs, and cybersecurity measures in place within the industry to uphold consumer privacy.

The Transportation Department clarified that the review isn’t prompted by specific allegations against any carrier or triggered by particular incidents. Rather, it’s a proactive step aimed at assisting the department in devising strategies to safeguard passengers’ information effectively.

Letters have been dispatched to each of the ten major airlines—Delta, United, American, Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue, Spirit, Frontier, Hawaiian, and Allegiant—inquiring about their protocols for collecting, utilizing, and potentially monetizing passenger data. The inquiry encompasses aspects such as targeted advertising, data breach prevention, and any reported cases of mishandling personal information by employees or contractors.

Several airlines, including Delta, United, American, Southwest, and Alaska, directed queries to the statement issued by Airlines for America, highlighting their commitment to data security. Allegiant, not affiliated with the trade group, also underscored its dedication to safeguarding customer data and expressed openness to the government’s scrutiny.

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