Spy in the sky? In-flight video screens have cameras the airlines swear they would never, ever use for surveillance

Could your airline be spying on you? Some passengers have raised the possibility.

Could your airline be spying on you? Some passengers have raised the possibility. Photo: Getty

Could your airline be spying on you? Some passengers have raised the possibility after finding a camera on their in-flight entertainment screen. 

Singapore Airlines passenger Vitaly Kamluk discovered the camera this week and posted a photo of the screen on Twitter to seek experts’ advice on why it was there. 

Just found this interesting sensor looking at me from the seatback on board of Singapore Airlines,” Mr Kamluk tweeted

In September, another passenger, Sri Ray, who was aboard an American Airlines flight to Tokyo also noticed a camera embedded into his entertainment system.

“I observe tech in day-to-day life and wonder how a malicious person can use it in bad ways.

“When I looked at the shiny new screens in the new premium economy cabin of AA, I noticed a small circle at the bottom. Upon closer inspection, it was definitely a camera,” Mr Ray told Buzzfeed News

Singapore Airlines responded to Mr Kamluk’s tweet confirming that the cameras were “disabled”.

An American Airlines spokesman told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that cameras were present on some of the airlines’ in-flight entertainment systems, but said “they have never been activated, and American is not considering using them”.

‘Mass surveillance is a bit much’

The New Daily understands that in-flight entertainment cameras are not present on major Australian airlines, but did not receive official comment from either Virgin Australia or Qantas confirming this.

Deakin University’s Cyber Security Research Institute Professor Matt Warren said he believed the cameras were disabled, but airlines should still play a role in putting passengers’ minds at ease. 

“Certainly the airlines could invest in camera covers to ensure that passengers’ minds are at ease – it’s a cheap and cost-effective way,” Professor Warren told The New Daily.

Professor Warren said it appeared the cameras were part of a new in-flight entertainment system.

“The airlines have bought a new entertainment system from the same supplier which are tablets that have cameras embedded in them.

“I wouldn’t see a reason for them to want to use mass surveillance.

“Cameras around sensitive areas like the cockpit are definitely necessary, but other than that I would see no reason for them to use mass surveillance – it’s a bit much.”

Years in development?

There were previous reports that aerospace tech company Thales was looking to embed infrared cameras within in-flight systems to capture gestures and eye-tracking as an alternative to the touch screens.

In 2012, Flightglobal reported that the system would be similar to a webcam on laptop screens. 

Brett Bleacher, director of hardware advanced technologies at Thales, said the goal was to enhance the in-flight entertainment experience. 

“For airlines, the concept offers several key benefits,” Mr Bleacher said.

“First, touch screens are expensive and suffer a lot of wear and tear, so a simple infrared camera – which in the future may be replaced by an even cheaper webcam should cut costs.”

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