You should always be concerned about new federal regulations that reach your desk on a Friday afternoon! Like the one that came across my desk today to remove a privacy provision for flights by private aircraft.
Honestly, this is one of those end-of-the-week ideas that is so stunning I was at a loss about how to respond. Then, I imagined the kind of discussion that might have occurred between the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget. Could it have happened like this?
OMB: Hello, Office of Regulatory Review.
DOT: Hey, DOT here. We’ve got an idea to kick around with you.
OMB: OK. Do you want to create a new regulation or get rid of one?
DOT: Well, we kind of want to get rid of one….
OMB: That’s great! We are trying to eliminate regulations!
DOT: Well, this one is tricky, because what we want to do is eliminate some people’s right to privacy when they travel, but we think it is really in the government’s interest.
OMB: Wait a minute….who are these people? Terrorists? Criminals? Tax evaders?
DOT: No. We’re talking about pilots who fly planes.
OMB: What kind of planes?
DOT: Well, all kinds really. You see we require these pilots in private planes to give us a lot of information if they are going to make a flight using their instruments.
OMB: I guess that’s a good thing. So, the problem is that they don’t like to do that?
DOT: No, they are happy to do that. But, then what we do is make agreements with companies that want to track those planes, and we release the information about the aircraft and where it is going.
OMB: Is this for some kind of historical reason?
DOT: Not really. Actually, it’s released in almost real time so that, if you know the number on the tail of a plane, really anyone can track it around the country.
OMB: You lost me. You take this information about private pilots flying private planes that they own and you make it available to everyone? Why would people give you this information in the first place?
DOT: Well, we’re DOT. They have to give it to us to file a flight plan.
OMB: So, you want to get rid of this program?
DOT: No, no. We like the program. In fact, over at the FAA we are going to modernize the air traffic control system and collect even more information on more aircraft. What we want to eliminate is a provision that allows people to protect their privacy!
OMB: You mean, you have people who allow you at DOT to track their aircraft….they are OK with that…..but, they have privacy concerns about the federal government turning that information over to companies who then make it available to anyone!!?? I guess I am not surprised that they would want to protect their privacy.
DOT: Well, we’ll let people maintain their privacy if they have death threats against them or if they are flying into areas where terrorists have been active.
OMB: What was that? How would you determine this? What if someone just wants to protect their privacy?
DOT: Well….why is that our problem? I mean, we are talking about someone who is flying a plane….
OMB: But, you said it is their own airplane. Shouldn’t we consider their privacy concerns?
DOT: That’s not really our concern.
OMB: Seems like there are a whole lot of implications we should be looking into. I mean, what are you going to do with all the data you have on automobiles traveling through EZ Pass toll gates?
DOT: Wow! There’s a thought. That opens up a whole new opportunity, sharing information on who uses EZ Pass…. I’ll get back to you on that.
If this concerns you– and it does me – send a comment to the Department of Transportation at the address below.
By the way, at AOPA we do not block our registration numbers and I do not block the number on my personal aircraft. As a membership organization, it’s appropriate for our members to know where we are going and how we are using our private aircraft. However, I do believe that those same members have every right to privacy with regard to their aircraft. It should be their decision to take advantage of a program that has worked just fine and about which no one seems to have complaints….except, apparently, someone at DOT.
Send comments to:
US Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140
Washington, D.C. 20590
Or, fax in a comment to: 202/493-2251
Be sure to include Docket Number FAA-2011-0183 at the top of your comments.
I should tell you, DOT says it will post all comments received, without change, including any personal information you provide. (At least they are consistent in their enthusiasm for disclosure).