Following JetBlue Privacy Breach, ACLU Urges Customers to Find Out If They Are In Government Database

September 24, 2003 12:00 am

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New ACLU Web Page Lets Passengers File Requests Under Privacy Act


NEW YORK- The American Civil Liberties Union today unveiled an online form that lets airline passengers automatically issue an official Privacy Act request for any information that the government may hold about them in connection with the recent transfer of passenger data by the airline JetBlue.

“”We want to empower people to find out for themselves if they have been caught up in this experiment in using average Americans’ personal information in a misguided effort to detect terrorists,”” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, which set up the site. “”We believe this page is an unprecedented tool. It lets Americans file official requests without having to hire a lawyer or become an expert in privacy law.””

Creation of the page follows last week’s revelation that JetBlue had shared five million passenger records with a subcontractor for the Pentagon, Torch Concepts. The company was then was able to match 40 percent of those records with further personal details – such as income, occupation, and Social Security number – obtained from the data merchant Acxiom.

The Web page allows individuals who flew with JetBlue before September of 2002 (when the airline turned over its data to the government) to generate an official request under the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Freedom of Information Act for any data held about them in connection with JetBlue by the Department of Defense (DoD), the Army, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

“”After I realized that I personally flew JetBlue during the period in question, I decided to file a personal Privacy Act request for my files,”” said Steinhardt. “”Then it occurred to us that people who aren’t ACLU lawyers should have an easy way to submit their own requests for their files. So we set up this page so that anyone can exercise their legal right to access files about them being held by the government.””

Steinhardt noted that the ACLU has also filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information about the acquisition, use, and purposes of the JetBlue data. That broader request is separate from individual requests filed using the new Web page. “”We intend to get to the bottom of this – who did what with whose data and why,”” said Steinhardt.

A feature on the JetBlue issue is accessible through the ACLU’s Privacy and Technology Site.

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