Data Dutch KLM passengers handed over to NASA

By EDRi · January 15, 2004

The US airline company Nothwest Airlines voluntarily handed over the personal data of possibly as much as 10 million US and European passengers to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Northwest Airlines has an alliance with the Dutch airline company KLM. The two companies have integrated their reservation systems and operate code-sharing flights from the USA to Amsterdam and beyond routes to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India. Airline experts believe part of the data handed over to NASA originates from KLM passengers.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington publicized documents about the transfer obtained through a Freedom of Information Act procedure. NASA requested from Northwest Airlines the passenger data (PNR) from July to September 2001 for use in development and testing of passenger-profiling schemes. Northwest acknowledges the transfer. The company said in a statement that the transfer was ‘appropriate’ but that its current policy ‘is to not provide passenger name record data to private contractors or federal government agencies for use in aviation security research projects’. EPIC has filed a complaint against Northwest Airlines with the US Department of Transport.

NASA requested Northwest to provide ‘system-wide Northwest Airlines passenger data’. System-wide PNR data contains the personal data of all passengers on all flights operated by Northwest Airlines, domestic and abroad, and the data of all flights from airline companies with which Northwest operates code-sharing flights. This applies to KLM flights from Amsterdam to the US but also to many KLM flights within Europe and to destinations in Africa, the Middle East and India.

KLM can only share data with Northwest Airlines when the US company is able to comply with EU privacy standards. The American Civil Liberties Union has asked EU commissioner Bolkestein to investigate the handling of EU passenger data by Northwest. The Dutch civil liberties organisation Bits of Freedom will ask the Dutch Data Protection Authority to investigate the transfer, the role of KLM and to order KLM to notify the passengers involved.

EPIC documents: Northwest Airlines’ Disclosure of Passenger Data to NASA

ACLU letter to EU Commissioner Bolkestein (21.01.2004)