The department dismissed a complaint filed this year by a Washington privacy rights organization, Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union alleging that the carrier committed unfair and deceptive trade practices in sharing the information with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration without informing its customers. The agency has the authority to review business practices of companies in the transportation industry, for example, such as whether an airline actually provided fares to customers as advertised. It was the first time the transportation agency had reviewed a case involving an airline's privacy policies, the Sept. 10 decision said.
Northwest's policy posted on its Web site said the airline would not sell information about its customers to third parties and that it shares information about its passengers only in limited, specific cases. Northwest shared three months' worth of travel records with NASA's Ames Research Center, following a December 2001 request by the agency.
The Transportation Department said it dismissed the complaint because the language of the policy says only that the airline won't sell the information and it did not address sharing information with the government. "Ultimately, and most convincingly . . . there does not appear to have been any actual or likely harm to Northwest's customers," the decision said.
Northwest was one of several airlines found to have shared millions of passenger records with the government or federal contractors after the terrorist attacks. Such records typically contain a passenger's name, address, phone number, e-mail address and credit card information.
Two lawsuits filed on behalf of Northwest passengers for violating privacy laws were recently dismissed in courts in North Dakota and Minnesota. One lawsuit is outstanding in Tennessee, the carrier said.
American, JetBlue, Delta, Continental, America West and Frontier airlines also said they shared passenger records for similar purposes. JetBlue and American have also been sued.