A Singapore Airlines passenger discovered a camera below his IFE but the airline claimed the cameras were not being used and that any privacy concerns were essentially unfounded. Then Buzzed published a story about American Airlines seats having seat back cameras as well. Followed by reports that Delta and United have the same feature installed. Of course, it did not go over well with travelers with legitimate privacy concerns. By now, we all know Big Brother is watching. So should we be concerned about seatback cameras?
That depends on whether you choose to believe the airlines’ PR line:
“[We’re] not considering using them”
The response from both American and Singapore Airlines was essentially the same. American Airlines claimed the cameras were installed by the manufacturer “for possible future use”, though they were not in use at the moment. Singapore Airlines had an almost identical response:
Hi there, these cameras, which were provided by the original equipment manufacturers, were disabled on our aircraft. We have no plans to enable any features using the cameras.
— Singapore Airlines (@SingaporeAir) February 18, 2019
I find it hard to believe that IFE manufacturers would include cameras without the direction of the airlines. At the very least, it must have been a selling point. It’s not strange, in the current climate, for us to be filmed in our seats. Especially since our camera phones are getting tapped. But it is strange that the airline would pay for a security feature like an IFE camera and not use it. I call bull on this explanation. If the airline has no intention to use seatback cameras, why install them?
Privacy vs. Security
At the risk of sounding ultra-paranoid, I would point to the NSA surveillance program, which has been used for years to spy on American citizens as well as foreigners. As part of this mass surveillance program, law enforcement can tap into anyone’s cell phone, landline, and camera. On an airplane, where electronics are disabled, the workaround would be to tap into the seat back camera. So even if airlines choose not to utilize seat back cameras, they can still be hacked into for surveillance purposes by intelligence agencies. But do we need our privacy more than law enforcement might need to monitor criminal behavior?
“If you’re not doing anything wrong…”
One defense of these seat back cameras is, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” In itself, IFE cameras could be brushed off as another minor security measure meant to protect everyone on board. They could also be another step towards turning us into citizens of Oceania. Allowing small intrusions like this could lead to further privacy intrusions in the future.
So should you worry about seat back cameras possibly recording you? It’s definitely weird, even if you’re not “doing anything wrong.” It’s the principle – do we continue to accept privacy intrusions, whether by the government, corporations, or weirdos on the internet? At what point do we draw the line? On principle alone, I’m not ok with this. But I also know there’s nothing to be done about it.
We live in ultra-paranoid times where everything is a threat and the only way to deal with it is through constant surveillance. At least that’s what we’re told. We’ve become desensitized to privacy intrusions. If the idea of the NSA tapping into your laptop camera to watch you undress in your hotel room doesn’t freak you out, then the seat back cameras shouldn’t either. But if you’ve seen CitizenFour and have already applied a piece of tape over your laptop camera, you might want to bring an extra roll on your next flight.
How do you feel about airlines having seat back cameras?
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