I’ve been worried about the government getting comprehensive data on airline passengers in order to check their names against a terrorist “watch list.” Turns out that the government has another reason for wanting passenger data.
Although privacy experts worry about the government gathering personal information on airline travelers, Delta Airlines is handing over electronic lists of passengers from some flights to help stop the spread of deadly infectious diseases.
The lists will allow health officials to notify more quickly those travelers who might have been exposed to illnesses such as dengue fever, flu, plague, SARS and biological agents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a congressional panel on Wednesday.
It’s the same story: a massive privacy violation of everybody just in case something happens to a few.
As an example of the CDC’s notification efforts, Schuchat cited the case of a New Jersey resident who returned from a trip to Sierra Leone in September with Lassa fever. The patient flew to Newark via London and took a train home. Only after he died a few days later did the CDC confirm the disease.
CDC worked with the state, the airline, the railroad, the hospital and others to identify 188 people who had been near the patient. Nineteen were deemed at-risk and 16 were contacted; none of those contacted came down with the disease. It took more than five days to notify some passengers, Schuchat said.
It’s unclear how this program would reduce that “five days” problem. I think it’s a better trade-off for the airlines to be ready to send the CDC the data in the event of a problem, rather than them sending the CDC all the data — just in case — before there is any problem.