Sen. Pat Roberts: Protect the privacy of general aviation

07/17/2011 5:21 AM

07/17/2011 5:22 AM

With the advent of social-networking sites, our society has become accustomed to real-time disclosure of almost every aspect of a person's life. Though it's certainly citizens' choice to disclose their whereabouts to the public, the issue of whether the government has the right to disclose this information is a whole different story.

Unfortunately, public disclosure of private citizens' whereabouts will become a reality in August should the Federal Aviation Administration have its way of ending the Block Aircraft Registration Request program.

The BARR program allows citizens and companies to "opt out" of having their aircraft movements tracked by anyone, anywhere in the world, who has an Internet connection, other than the Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies. Easy enough, right?

It is just like citizens traveling in their car have every right to believe that their whereabouts won't be disclosed to anyone who has tracking technology. This program sounds like it's a no-brainer to me.

But this past March, the federal government issued a notice in the Federal Register that it would severely cut back the BARR program to only apply to those individuals with a known and specific security threat. That means if the proposed changes by the FAA are put in place, anyone with a computer and easily accessible tracking technology can stalk general aviation aircraft users.

This reversal would dismantle a decade-old policy put in place to uphold the privacy rights of thousands of Americans.

Even more troubling, the reasons given by the administration to limit application of the BARR program are completely without warrant. It argues that scaling back the BARR program is necessary to prevent criminals from smuggling drugs into the U.S. by private aircraft. This couldn't be further from the truth.

The BARR program already allows the Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies to track the location of users of the national airspace system. BARR simply prevents those who are unauthorized or unaffiliated with the government from knowing the location of private citizens.

Publishing the movements of general aviation airplanes against citizens' will flies in the face of the government's traditional role in protecting private information, including turnpike-pass data, GPS use, tax returns and medical files.

For this reason, I was part of the bipartisan group of 26 senators who sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressing our strong opposition to this blatant violation of citizens' right to privacy and demanding that he reconsider his decision. In addition, a diverse group of associations — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and the American Civil Liberties Union — have expressed concern about the FAA's proposal.

I take very seriously my duty as a U.S. senator to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, and I will continue to fight against any actions by the federal government that infringe upon the rights of my fellow Americans.

Join the Discussion

The Wichita Eagle is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service