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Secretary Buttigieg Announces First Industry-Wide Privacy Review of U.S. Airlines

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg unveiled a groundbreaking initiative today, signaling the Department of Transportation's (DOT) commitment to safeguarding passengers' personal information. The DOT will conduct an industry-wide privacy review, scrutinizing the practices of the nation's ten largest airlines. This comprehensive assessment aims to ensure that airlines handle, protect, and utilize passengers' personal data ethically and transparently.

What Does the Privacy Review Entail?

The privacy review will delve into critical aspects of airline operations, including:

  • Data Collection and Handling: The DOT will assess airlines' policies and procedures related to the collection, maintenance, and use of passengers' personal information. This examination aims to determine whether airlines are adequately safeguarding sensitive data.

  • Monetization and Third-Party Sharing: The review will investigate whether airlines engage in unfair or deceptive practices by monetizing passenger data or sharing it with third parties without proper consent.

  • Passenger Complaints: The DOT will consider complaints alleging mishandling of personal information by airline employees or contractors. Ensuring passenger privacy is paramount.

Secretary Buttigieg's Commitment to Passengers

In a statement, Secretary Buttigieg emphasized the importance of passengers' confidence in the protection of their personal information. He stated, "Airline passengers should have confidence that their personal data is not being shared improperly or mishandled. This review marks the beginning of a new era of accountability for airlines."

Senator Ron Wyden, a key collaborator in this effort, praised the initiative. He highlighted that consumers often remain unaware of data misuse or unauthorized sales to data brokers. Effective privacy regulation cannot solely rely on consumer complaints; proactive measures are essential.

DOT's Authority and Enforcement

The DOT has the authority to investigate complaints and take enforcement action against airlines and ticket agents violating privacy norms. Civil penalties may be imposed where necessary. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules guide these efforts.

The Airlines Under Review

This year, the DOT's Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) will scrutinize the privacy practices of the following airlines:

  • Allegiant

  • Alaska

  • American

  • Delta

  • Frontier

  • Hawaiian

  • JetBlue

  • Southwest

  • Spirit

  • United

Senator Wyden's office, with its expertise in consumer privacy issues, collaborated in shaping the privacy review program.

Broader Privacy Protection Efforts

The privacy review aligns with the Biden-Harris Administration's commitment to consumer privacy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently proposed changes to the COPPA rule, aiming to restrict the use and disclosure of children's data. Additionally, the FTC explores broader rules to address surveillance and data security concerns.

Enhancing Consumer Rights

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, the DOT continues to champion consumer rights for airline passengers. Key rulemakings include:

  1. Family Seating: Proposing a ban on family seating fees, ensuring parents can sit with their children at no extra charge during flights.

  2. Fee Transparency: Empowering consumers by providing clear information on baggage fees and flight changes.

  3. Passenger Compensation: Mandating compensation and amenities for travelers affected by flight delays or cancellations.

  4. Refunds: Ensuring prompt refunds for canceled or significantly changed flights, including delayed baggage and unprovided services.

The privacy review represents a pivotal step toward a safer, more transparent aviation industry, where passengers' trust and privacy are paramount.

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