Cameras facing passengers are embedded in inflight entertainment (IFE) screens, three major airlines are confirming.
However, United, American, and Singapore Airlines also claim they have no plans to use the camera that is reportedly a standard feature of the IFE manufacturer, but a privacy watchdog says it shouldn’t be there.
“If airlines aren’t using the cameras, they shouldn’t be there,” said the director of Big Brother Watch. “Passengers shouldn’t have to worry about whether secret cameras are on or off, whether they’re being recorded, or whether the cameras could be hacked.”
“It appears that these airlines haven’t considered the privacy and security risks to their customers, or justified the presence of these cameras.”
The outcry began a week ago after a Singapore Airlines passenger noticed the eye-level lens and asked the carrier what it was doing there.
Just found this interesting sensor looking at me from the seat back on board of Singapore Airlines. Any expert opinion of whether this a camera? Perhaps @SingaporeAir could clarify how it is used? pic.twitter.com/vy0usqruZG
— Vitaly Kamluk (@vkamluk) February 17, 2019
Responding to the tweet, the airline said the camera is part of a new system provided by the manufacturer and there are “no plans to enable or develop any features using the cameras.”
Correspondingly, American and United Airlines issued separate but similar statements on the matter.
“This is a standard feature that manufacturers of the system have included for possible future purposes such as video conferencing,” said a United spokesperson. “However, our cameras have never been activated on United aircraft and we have no plans to use them in the future.”
The maker of the IFE system, Panasonic Avionics, acknowledged the outrage by saying they were in compliance with the EU’s data protection law called General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
“Prior to the use of any camera on a Panasonic Avionics system that would affect passenger privacy, Panasonic Avionics would work closely with its airline customer to educate passengers about how the system works and to certify compliance with all appropriate privacy laws and regulations, such as GDPR,” said a spokesperson.
Interestingly, Panasonic is tied to the creation of a floor lamp that sparked privacy concerns due to the security camera it possesses.