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Tue, Sep 23, 2003

JetBlue Erases All Doubt

JetBlue CEO Answers Aero-News

by Tim Kern

Last week was a tough one for jetBlue, as allegations and possible evidence of the airline's collaboration with the DHS and TSA came up. We printed our preliminary information on Wednesday; later Wednesday, the airline's Vice President of Corporate Communications got back to me. That response was published Thursday. By Friday night, Tom Brokaw was talking about the beginning of the story on NBC.

I asked jetBlue, through that company's website:

I would like an explanation of how jetBlue's PNR data, shared with DoD, got to your contractor, Torch Concepts (Torch Technologies), and then into a paper for the National Defense Industrial Association, which was posted to the Internet.

The report contains SSNs, DoB, and home address information.

1) When DoD transfered this information to Torch, what safeguards did you employ?
2) What permission did you give Torch, to publish this information?
3) Why would what is presumed to be private information allowed to be used in a public association forum; and did DoD give the NDIA permission to release the information on the web?
4) Torch denies ever working for DHS, yet its paper, delivered by Bill Rorke (their CEO) is titled, "Homeland Security: Airline Passenger Risk Assessment." Is DoD supplying citizen dossiers to the DHS, directly or indirectly?
5) What other programs is our military (which is supposed to protect us) working on, that can, through the negligence of government or government agents, harm us?

Perhaps you have an answer to at least some of these questions. Please let me know. Thank you.

We got the last word, and directly from the top:

Dear Mr. Kern,

Thank you for writing to JetBlue so that I have an opportunity to apologize to you personally and set the record straight.

Most importantly, JetBlue has never supplied, nor will supply, customer information to the Transportation Security Administration, or any government agency, unless we are required to do so by law -- not for CAPPS II or for any other purposes, whatsoever.

However, I regret that, more than a year ago, we responded to an exceptional request from the Department of Defense to assist their contractor, Torch Concepts, with a project regarding military base security. This project had no connection with aviation security or the CAPPS II program and no data files were ever shared with the Department of Defense or any other government agency or contractor.

We provided limited historical customer data including names, addresses and phone numbers. It DID NOT include personal financial information, credit card information, or social security numbers.

Torch further developed this information into a presentation, without JetBlue's knowledge, for a Department of Homeland Security symposium. 

We regret that this presentation included the personal information of one customer -- although the customer's name was not used. Again, we had no knowledge of this presentation until [your report surfaced] and we were deeply dismayed to learn of it.

The sole set of data in Torch's possession has been destroyed; no government agency ever had access to it. With Torch's help, we are continuing to make every effort to have the Torch presentation with the one customer's information removed from the internet.

This was a mistake on our part and I know you and many of our customers feel betrayed by it. We deeply regret that this happened and have taken steps to fix the situation and make sure that it never happens again.

I am saddened that we have shaken your faith in JetBlue but I assure you personally that we are committed to making this right.

Sincerely, David Neeleman, Chief Executive Officer

We thank Mr. Neeleman, and jetBlue, for their forthright communications; and we caution other entities to be extremely careful about their sharing data with "secure" elements of the government.

FMI: www.jetblue.com

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