Privacy Group Urges Probe of JetBlue

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A privacy-rights group asked U.S. regulators Monday to prosecute JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) for secretly giving the names of more than a million of its passengers to an anti-terrorism screening program.

JetBlue violated a promise to maintain customer privacy when it gave passenger information to a military contractor last year, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (search) said in a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (search).

JetBlue apologized last week for handing over passenger names, addresses and phone numbers in an effort to help the U.S. Defense Department identify possible terrorist threats.

According to documents posted on the watchdog site, defense contractor Torch Concepts Inc. (search) crossed passenger lists with additional personal information such as Social Security numbers and income levels in a data-mining program to determine whether passengers could be assessed for a security risk.

Data aggregator Acxiom Corp. (ACXM), which provided the additional information, was also named in the EPIC complaint.

Both companies misled consumers through statements on their Web sites that said they would not share personal information with third parties or give consumers some say in how that information is shared, EPIC said.

"Such action violated the publicly posted privacy policies of both companies and misled consumers in a very unfair and deceptive manner," EPIC staff counsel Marcia Hoffman told reporters in a conference call.

EPIC also asked the Federal Aviation Administration (search), the Army and the Transportation Security Administration (search) for further information about the program.

An FTC spokesperson declined to comment.

Such use of passenger information is common in the travel industry, according to author and privacy activist Edward Hasbrouck. Reservation firms have provided airline and hotel records on several occasions to government contractors looking to test their screening systems, he said, and much customer data is poorly protected against computer hacking.

"The abuse of privacy by JetBlue was not unusual," said Hasbrouck, who called on Congress to investigate industry practices. "What was unusual is JetBlue actually having a privacy policy."

A JetBlue spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

An Acxiom spokesman was not immediately available for comment.