WASHINGTON (AP) -- Although privacy experts worry about the government gathering personal information on airline travelers, Delta Airlines is handing over electronic lists of passengers from some flights to help stop the spread of deadly infectious diseases.
The lists will allow health officials to notify more quickly those travelers who might have been exposed to illnesses such as dengue fever, flu, plague, SARS and biological agents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a congressional panel on Wednesday.
''The government is seeing that massive amounts of data can be useful for any number of purposes,'' said Marcia Hofmann, an attorney for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. ''There need to be some regulations or restrictions on how airlines can share passenger information like this.''
Passenger lists already are sent electronically to the Customs Bureau, which checks to see if any potential terrorists are aboard flights bound for the United States. The CDC wants access to the same lists, but only for flights coming from places with an outbreak of an infectious disease or for those that carried a passenger later found to be infected.
Now, the CDC must gather passenger names by hand from flight manifests, Customs declarations and other sources, which can take time, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases.
Electronic access to all the information would help considerably in speeding the notification process, she told the House aviation subcommittee during a hearing about preventing the spread of diseases through the global aviation system.