Bravo, jetBlue

by Charlie Leocha on September 29, 2003

The JetBlue privacy violation is a perfect example of the media getting excited about the wrong thing. The only violation that was committed by JetBlue was a possible violation of their own privacy statement which notes, “The financial and personal information collected on this site is not shared with any third parties, and is protected by secure servers.”

OK. Based on that sentence in the JetBlue privacy statement the high priests of privacy have declared JetBlue a mortal sinner. That is not the case.

Holding JetBlue to the exact letter of that sentence would put it out of business. Everyday, JetBlue shares information with third parties when it sends passenger names and credit card numbers to VISA, MasterCard, Diners Club and so on (third parties), in order to verify that those purchasing tickets have enough credit to make the purchase.

Last April, I wrote about the new airline security passenger database, known as CAPPS II.

JetBlue, in this latest flap, was being a good corporate citizen and doing its best to protect its passengers. This is commendable and should be rewarded rather than condemned. The biggest change needed for their privacy policy is a statement that JetBlue “may share information with government agencies under the laws of the United States.”

When we are searching for information on people dedicated to doing us harm, it is necessary to scan records of the innocent. Just as we, when looking up a phone number in a telephone book, have access to thousands of names, address and other phone numbers; the government must logically scan all citizens in order to weed out the bad fruit.

Phone numbers in a public phone book are not violations of privacy. They are a simple fact of life.

The concerns of the American people are not keeping data from legitimate government efforts to ward off terrorism. The concerns of the American people addressed in the JetBlue privacy policy were stated there to assure Web site users that their personal information would not be used to generate unwanted emails, phone spam and commercial propositions.

Unfortunately, the quaint notion of absolute privacy is a modern-day myth. In this day of modern computers, the concept of privacy needs to be reexamined. When enemies of the American people hide behind a cloak of privacy and use our laws to do us harm, we need to rethink our official definitions about privacy.

Some privacy is good. Some privacy is bad. Total privacy is unworkable in our modern society.

Without information sharing (read this privacy violations), credit cards could not be used, mortgages would not be issued, cash machines would grind to a halt, frequent flier miles would disappear and income taxes could not be efficiently collected.

We, as a country, have already given up bits and pieces of privacy to make our lives easier. To be faced with an uproar from the Keepers of Political Correctness when the government dares to collect information already in the public domain in pursuit of villains is mind-boggling.

Commercial information sharing is what makes the economic engine of the United States hum. The same kind of information sharing is needed for our government.

It absurd that multiple driver’s licenses can be issued across the country with no database that can screen names across all state lines. It is foolish to keep the CIA from speaking with the FBI, and keep the FBI from speaking with local police. It is beyond comprehension that traffic cops writing tickets have no nationwide system of knowing if the person driving is wanted for theft, sex offenses, immigration violations or non-payment of child support.

All this inefficiency while credit card companies can track your credit card usage throughout the world with penny-by-penny accuracy. Something is out of whack.

It seems that surrendering privacy in pursuit of profit is good. However, surrendering privacy in pursuit of national security is bad.

This is a sad state. As a people, we are still sleeping in a la-la land where business as usual creeps at its petty pace day by day. Unfortunately, the world of today is not continuing on a business-as-usual basis. Americans and our way of life are under attack. We as citizens must recognize this and help those who are working to keep us secure rather than work to block every step.

JetBlue should be commended for being a brave, forward-looking corporate citizen. It should be recognized for putting the safety of passengers first in its priorities. The airline industry should embrace the sharing of passenger information and we as Americans must accept information sharing as a fact of modern life that improves commerce and security, rather than as an assault on privacy.

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