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Civil Liberties Group Joins Fight to Preserve BARR

July 20, 2011

Calling the government's plans for disabling the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program "an unnecessary risk to individual privacy and corporate security," the civil liberties group Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) on July 17 joined the groundswell of opposition to curtailing the Congressionally enabled program.

"Flight tracking data has already been used to invade individual privacy on multiple occasions," said the group in a Tuesday blog post by CDT's Patrick McKay. "Individuals should not be forced to articulate a specific security threat in order to enjoy basic privacy."

The CDT is an independent, non-profit public interest organization with offices in Washington D.C. and San Francisco, CA, that advocates user empowerment and free expression on the Internet.

The CDT's opposition to the government's plans for the BARR adds to other protests that have been raised from individuals and groups across the political spectrum. Among other organizations expressing concern are the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council and the General Aviation Airports Coalition.

To illustrate the rationale for his opposition to disabling the "do not track" capability provided by the BARR for aviation movements, CDT's McKay cited in his blog post a May 21 front-page article in The Wall Street Journal that constructed detailed travel histories for several public figures. "And in 2009," he said, "a blogger discovered that Steve Jobs had undergone a liver transplant in Tennessee by tracking his plane to Memphis."

McKay added that aircraft tracking data could be used by rival companies to gain knowledge of secret business deals and other sensitive information based on where their competitor's planes have traveled.

"In a worst-case scenario," said McKay, "terrorists could take advantage of real-time tracking data to target corporate executives and other VIPs for attack."

The CDT's position statement is just the latest signal of broad-based support for the NBAA fight against BARR dismantlement. Earlier this month, 59 U.S. lawmakers signed two separate letters to Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pointedly questioning the government's decision to severely curtail the BARR program.

In addition, a July 17 op-ed by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), published in the Wichita Eagle newspaper denounced the reversal of the decade-old BARR policy, saying the FAA's reasoning is "completely without warrant." Several online information publications have since picked up Robert's editorial.

A Wichita Eagle editorial board statement on July 10 also argued against the FAA's action, citing the obvious deleterious effects of the BARR decision on employment in that city. Wichita is the major U.S. producer of business aircraft.

NBAA has set up a BARR program information page for NBAA members with information on the proposed new BARR requirements and the latest news on the issue, as well as a link to the BARR Legal Defense Fund. Donations for that defense fund are being accepted.