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Letter to The Wall Street Journal in Response to "For Highest Fliers, New Scrutiny"

The Wall Street Journal
ATTN: Letters Editor
200 Liberty Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10281-1015

May 23, 2011

Your front-page story detailing the movements of private “general aviation” airplanes (“For Highest Fliers, New Scrutiny,” May 22) should send a chill down the spine of any American concerned about privacy and security.

As the story notes, the government plans to roll back privacy rights with a proposal to make airplane tail numbers public. That would enable anyone – terrorist, criminal, cyber-stalker, business competitor, paparazzi – with a simple internet connection to track the movements of thousands of aircraft and, for all practical purposes, their occupants.

The government’s argument that publishing an airplane tail number doesn’t necessarily reveal the identity of a traveler is sophistry; with the tail number, anyone with a little initiative can quickly determine the likely travelers aboard – a reality confirmed by your article.

Traveling on a confidential trip to lock-down a new business deal? The Department of Transportation wants your competitors to know about it. Facing threats of corporate espionage? The new rule will telegraph all your movements if your business, like thousands of others, sometimes relies on general aviation aircraft. Worried about a CEO being targeted by criminals? The government’s new rule could put a publicly available homing device on them.

But what is most startling about the proposed rollback of these privacy rights is that no one has even identified the interest – other than prurient voyeurism – that the invasion of privacy advances. What’s next? Under the DOT’s logic, the government could next release the records on drivers’ E-Z pass use on highways, passenger manifests for airline flights, individuals’ cell-phone calling traffic, and consumers’ credit card use.

Congress has moved to keep this genie in its bottle; the House of Representatives has stood up for privacy and against the government’s gratuitous “Paparazzi proposal” for broadcasting airplane flights. The Senate should do the same.

Sincerely,

Ed Bolen
President and CEO
National Business Aviation Association