NY Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against JetBlue, Acxiom

LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- A judge says JetBlue Airways passengers whose personal information was used without their knowledge in a federally funded study of aviation security failed to prove they were harmed and are not entitled to damages in their federal lawsuit.

In an order signed Friday, U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon in Brooklyn, N.Y., dismissed a class-action lawsuit against JetBlue, Little Rock-based Acxiom Corp., Torch Concepts of Huntsville, Ala., and SRS Technologies of Newport Beach, Calif.

Acxiom and Torch are database management companies and SRS is a Department of Defense contractor. JetBlue and Acxiom supplied passenger information to Torch, an SRS subcontractor that analyzed it in an effort to identify people who might be a risk to military installations.

The judge said that despite good intentions, JetBlue was not entitled to break its agreement with passengers that it would not give away passenger information.

''The thrust of (JetBlue's) argument ... is that prevention of future terrorist attacks on military installations will protect the integrity of routes and avoid negative impacts on the financial prospects of air carriers,'' Amon wrote.

But having said that, Amon said the passengers could not prove how they were damaged.

Amon also rejected a claim that JetBlue enjoyed an unjust enrichment because the company gave the information to Torch rather than selling it.

''The only benefit JetBlue derived was 'the potential for increased safety on its flights and the potential to prevent the use of commercial airlines as weapons that target military bases,''' Amon wrote.

The former JetBlue passengers, in a number of lawsuits consolidated at Brooklyn, said JetBlue and Acxiom helped Torch and SRS violate privacy laws by building a database of passenger information. The database included whether the passengers owned or rented their home, how long they had lived at that residence, the number of immediate family members, Social Security numbers and whether they owned or leased their car, the lawsuit said.

Interest in passenger list data grew after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but revelations that airlines turned over passenger lists for government research triggered a number of class-action lawsuits. As a result, airlines said they would turn over the data only on a direct order.

Previously, JetBlue acknowledged that it violated its own privacy policy in giving information from about 5 million passenger records to Torch Concepts.

''Although the action was found to be lawful, it violated our privacy protection policy,'' said Jenny Derbin, a spokeswoman for Forest Hills, N.Y.-based JetBlue. ''We regret that deeply. We have no intention of sharing information with any third party.''

Federal law prohibits the government from keeping a secret database, and the Department of Homeland Security has questioned whether it broke the law by failing to disclose its past use of commercial databases in its passenger screening program.

Homeland Security's privacy manager, Nuala O'Connor Kelly, said last month she was investigating whether any laws were broken in the government's Secure Flight program.

With the JetBlue and Acxiom data, Torch produced a study, ''Homeland Security: Airline Passenger Risk Assessment,'' that was intended to help the government improve military base security.

Acxiom spokesman Dale Ingram said the ruling was expected.

''Since the day the lawsuit was filed Acxiom had said we had not violated any laws or regulations, and we are delighted that the courts have agreed,'' Ingram said.

The defendants asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, saying the plaintiffs had no valid claim under federal or state law and that any state law violations were trumped by the Airline Deregulation Act. The federal government filed a statement of interest arguing that no defendant violated privacy laws and urging dismissal.