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Can the plane seat cameras spy on passengers?

(CNN) – An air cabin is not a great place to indulge in "me-time". After all, you are stuffed into a small room with many strangers – but you hope you can eat, sleep and relax on your way to your destination without fear of being seen.

We're not talking about voyeuristic fellow passengers, but an even creepy thought: being scrutinized via cameras installed in your inflight entertainment system (IFE). [19659004] In February, Vitaly Kamluk – a Twitter user working on malware research ̵

1; was aboard a Singapore Airlines aircraft when the wife noticed an "interesting sensor" under the inflight entertainment screen and pointed it out.

"She generally felt discomfort for a digital eye that looked at her. I think it's a common reaction of general passengers." Kamluk tells CNN Travel.
Kamluk suspected that it was a camera and Tweeted images of the discovery, marking Singapore Airlines in hopes of getting answers.

"I was quite surprised to actually see something like a camera and as a security expert I could imagine many scenarios of abuse of such sensors. Therefore, I decided to call the clock," he said.

Kamluk's post quickly achieved Social Media Traction and Singapore Airlines replied and explained that its newer inflight entertainment systems include a built-in camera, but emphasizes that these cameras are disabled.

Courtesy Pexels

The fact that some aircraft seats have built-in cameras is not new knowledge.

Singapore The airline's inflight entertainment system is manufactured by Panasonic Avionics, a American company that delivers IFE to many of the major airlines and the French company Thales, Panasonic announced for some time that cameras were being added on seat back.

And in 2017, Panasonic Avionics announced a partnership with Tascent – a biometric and identity innovation company.

"Companies will combine Tascent's biometric identity devices, software and services with Panasonic Avionic Corporation's entertainment and communications systems during flight to provide streamlined, easy-to-use identity recognition before departure, on-flight and on-arrival," reads the corresponding press release.

The idea was that back cameras could facilitate boarding immigration, skipping lines when landing. It was also suggested that a set-back camera could help on-board payment processing.

  BA-IFE- (2)

British Airways says it has infrared sensors on some backrests, but no cameras.

Courtesy CNN

At the age of the smartphone everyone has a small cinema in hand, so there is certainly an expectation that the airlines will have exciting entertainment options – a screen that only shows movies will not cut it anymore.

"Some of our 777 aircraft have cameras that were pre-installed with inflight entertainment hardware we had purchased from the manufacturer (Panasonic)," a spokesman for the Dubai-based airline told CNN Travel. "It was originally meant for video calling, but Emirates never activated it."

"These cameras are permanently disabled on our plane and cannot be activated on board."

Singapore Airlines

This echoes Singapore Airlines comment on the problem.

"These cameras have been calculated by the manufacturers for future development," the airline says. "These cameras are permanently disabled on our plane and cannot be activated on board. We have no plans to activate or develop any features using the cameras."

Meanwhile, American Airlines told CNN Travel that the cameras are "a standard feature" but are not enabled and the carrier has no plans to use them.

Aussie carrier Qantas spokesman also told CNN Travel that IFE manufacturers include built-in cameras by default – and said the airline could not activate the cameras, even if they wanted to.

"The feature would require software in order to be activated, which Qantas does not have and does not plan to install."

Air New Zealand and British Airways told CNN Travel that there were no cameras on board any of their aircraft.

Two images taken by CNN Travel by an IFE system on a British Airways flight show how it looks like a lens of some kind. BA describes it as an infrared environmental sensor instead of a camera. [19659000]

Improve the experience?


Passengers worry about the cameras being hacked.

Courtesy Emirates

But are Sete cameras a bad idea? Some aviation experts believe they can improve on board, inflight experience.

Joe Leader, CEO of Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), believes there are several practical uses for these cameras.

In addition to simplifying video chat between passengers, the cameras can ensure that passengers become unwell or monitor cabins for suspicious behavior.

The cameras can also be used to map human trafficking or attacks – as an extension of the airman's eyes.

With regard to privacy, APEX carries countless cameras in society in the 21st century.

"Today, airline passengers are usually tracked outside the aircraft dozens of times on a typical journey through stores, security, roads and airports with unauthorized cameras, APEX says in a statement.

" Contrary to the fact that airlines only want to use Cameras in the future with permission when the technology has advanced to provide customized service enhancements that the passengers want. "

Hacking Fears, APEX suggests, is" misplaced. "

" The biggest risk of airline passenger breaches comes from their own smartphones, tablets, cameras, computers and small rt devices used in private settings, APEX says.

Hacking fears


Several airlines – including American Airlines – disabled cameras on board their aircraft.

Courtesy American Airlines

The concern of some flyers is that although the existence of these seat back cameras is not a secret – and although they can facilitate some cool features, it feels uncomfortable for their presence

Panasonic Avionics will never activate any function or functionality within an IFE system without the explicit direction of an airline. customer, the company said in a statement to CNN.

"Before using a camera on a Panasonic Avionics system that will affect privacy privacy, Panasonic Avionics will work closely with its airline customer to educate passengers on how the system works and to verify compliance with all relevant privacy laws and regulations, such as [The EU’s data privacy regulation] GDPR. "

But even though Panasonic Avionics and the airlines say the cameras are disabled, they are not physically covered and passengers are still concerned about hacking.

Kamluk, a cyber security expert, says it's a key issue.

"Passengers should understand that this is not about the government or airline's conspiracy against them," he tells CNN Travel. "I'm sure it's not in the airline's interest to spy on their passengers.

" The real risk comes from potentially unauthorized access to these devices from a heavily malicious attacker. As far as the IFE is connected to the Internet, there is the possibility of remote hacking and espionage if such devices can be activated in software. "

Passengers are also concerned that their data may be stolen or compromised.

" These may potentially result in the VIP passenger communication being canceled, passport data being photographed while filling in customs declarations, entering secret PIN or passwords to unlock the user's devices can be recorded on video, says Kamluk.

"As far as the IFE is connected to the Internet, there is the possibility of remote hacking and espionage if such devices can be activated in software."

Vitaly Kamluk, malware expert

"You can say that ordinary CCTV has the same risk, but when the camera with microphone is very close and right in front of you, the quality of such pictures, video and audio recordings makes a big difference. "

Aviation consultant Peter Lemme told CNN Travel that such fears were not unfounded and the airlines needed to listen.

"The public response will indicate that cameras against passengers are a toxic business," Lemme says. "Privacy seems to be the biggest concern, and it is going to spy and publish. for the camera to somehow take pictures of the person who will deliver them or be distributed incorrectly. "

" Trust is the variable between business and customer. It is difficult to earn and easy to lose. Airlines rely on passengers to trust that they will keep their travel information private. There is no upside for an airline to risk trust, but there are a lot of downsides. "

Many Internet users lose stickers over the computer's camera as a means of securing privacy. Should the airlines physically cover the cameras to reassure the passengers? [19659004] Lemme thinks it.

" There must be no chance of minor passenger monitoring agree with that. Does this mean a physical cover plate – I think yes. I don't know any other way that will convince everyone, he says.

Kamluk agrees.

"A good strategy is to give passengers a little more control over the privacy level," he says. "Manufacturers could make a simple hardware switch to enable / disable all dubious sensors such as cameras and microphones."

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