Are airline passengers safe with cameras standing by?

Passengers feel that these cameras could be misused by airlines or potentially by third-party hackers for spying or data breach

Photo: YouTube screengrab

A growing concern for many passengers and aviation experts is the onset of cameras in front of the seats of those onboard. The cameras are part of the inflight entertainment system and are not activated.

With this new airline camera feature, critics claim the ‘me-time’ in an airline cabin is lost. What’s worse, a passenger’s limited space and privacy while traveling are invaded with the presence of newly installed cameras.

People may no longer be at peace to indulge, eat, relax, and sleep while travelling for fear that someone might be watching.

In February this year, Vitaly Kamluk, who works in malware research, while onboard a Singapore Airlines plane with his wife found a “sensor” underneath the IFE screen and became curious about it.

His wife said she felt uncomfortable seeing a digital eye looking at her. Mr Kamluk noted that that was the general reaction of most passengers noticing it for the first time.

As an avid Twitter user, Mr Kamluk wanted to know if it was a camera so he tweeted about what he found and tagged Singapore Airlines to get a reply.

He cited he was quite surprised to see something like this. He added as a security expert himself, he shared possible misuse of these sensors so he made tweets to warn the other passengers.

His post became a hit on social media, which pressured Singapore Airlines’ management to provide an explanation.

The airline said that it was a new IFE system, involving an embedded camera, but stressed such cameras are inactive.

Available airline cameras
Having built-in cameras among many aircraft seats are not new.

Panasonic Avionics, a US-based firm, is responsible for the Singapore Airlines’ IFE system.

Panasonic also supplies IFE for most popular global airlines and French company Thales. Panasonic rolled out the added cameras in front of the passengers’ seats.

In 2017, Panasonic Avionics inked a deal with Tascent, a biometrics and identity innovation firm. The partnership integrated Tascent’s biometric identity equipment, software, and services with Panasonic Avionics IFE and communications systems to streamline the airline’s operations by providing user-friendly identity recognition prior to departure, while in flight and upon arrival, as cited in a press release.

The main concept behind that was having seat-back cameras that could hasten onboard immigration and skip lines upon arrival. Also, it was noted that a seat-back camera could assist in payment processing for onboard shoppers.

During the 2017 Dubai Airshow, Panasonic Avionics launched its advanced Emirates’ IFE in First Class and Economy. It highlighted the special features such as having a camera, microphone, and speaker.