Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific has fueled new privacy concerns after revealing that it monitors passengers via onboard cameras, CNBC reported.
The footage, captured via CCTV cameras located around the aircraft, is intended for “security purposes,” according to Cathay.
“In line with standard practice and to protect our customers and frontline staff, there are CCTV cameras installed in our airport lounges and onboard aircraft for security purposes,” Cathay Pacific said in a statement.
The company did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request to reveal the specific locations of the CCTV cameras. However, it said in the statement that “there are no CCTV cameras installed in the lavatories” or in their in-flight entertainment systems.
The announcement comes months after it was revealed that multiple airlines have cameras installed in their IFE systems. American Airline, Singapore Airlines and Emirates said at the time that they had no plans to activate their cameras.
Cathay Pacific, for its part, said it has never installed such devices in its IFEs, the report said.
“Our inflight entertainment systems do not have any cameras, microphones or sensors to monitor passengers, nor have they in the past,” it said in the statement.
However, the airline, which is often ranked among the world’s best, has come into privacy issues of its own in the past. In October 2018, Cathay reported a data breach that potentially impacted more than nine million passengers.
In its updated policy, the airline said its data collection processes were intended to improve the flying experience and enable greater personalization. However, it added that personal data may also be shared with third-party partners for marketing purposes.
“We will retain your personal data for as long as is necessary,” the policy says.
Vitaly Kamuk, a cybersecurity expert who Tweeted about the discovery of a camera lens in a Singapore Airlines IFE system, told CNN Travel back in March 2019 that there was a risk that images collected by such a lens could fall into the wrong hands.
“The true risk comes from potential unauthorized access to these devices from powerful malicious attackers. As far as IFE is connected to the Internet, there is a possibility of remote hack and espionage if such devices can be activated in software,” he said.
While some say it is a step too far, Panasonic Avionics, which supplies some IFE systems for Cathay Pacific, has previously said fears of surveillance and privacy breach are “a bit of an overreaction.”
The company says seat-back cameras will soon become an accepted part of flying, offering opportunities for seat-to-seat video conferencing, among other usages, the CNN report said.
“I believe it’s going to settle down, that the case to be made for positive benefits coming from cameras is stronger than any concern that they could possibly be used for nefarious purposes,” said David Bartlett, the company’s chief technology officer.