BARR is back: Privacy rights restored

December 2, 2011

Pilots can again protect private data about their aircraft’s movements from being publicly released, the FAA announced Dec. 2, responding to provisions of a recent law.

Congress had effectively restored the Block Aircraft Registration Request program by overwhelming vote in November, in a Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development appropriations bill. Privacy advocates in Congress and the general aviation industry had been fighting for the restoration of BARR since the announcement earlier this year that the program—which allows participants to block their N number and associated flight information when flying IFR—would be limited to those who could prove a “valid security concern.”

“On behalf of our AOPA members, we thank those in Congress and the administration who recognize the importance of assuring a measure of privacy protection to individuals operating their own aircraft,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “We are pleased to have the BARR program back in operation.”

The dismantling of BARR, which took effect Aug. 2, was met with bipartisan opposition in Congress. Many members of Congress and senators voiced their opposition to the change in letters to the Department of Transportation in the summer, and two bills to restore the program began making their way through each house of Congress. The appropriations bill that led to the program’s reinstatement cut off funding to anything that would limit an operator’s ability to request that his or her aircraft’s information be blocked from public dissemination.

Proponents of BARR argued that releasing information to the public such as the aircraft’s altitude, airspeed, destination, and estimated time of arrival invades privacy, poses a security risk to those on board, and threatens the competitiveness of U.S. companies.

NBAA led the initiative to restore BARR, and AOPA joined the association in taking the fight to court, petitioning the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to invalidate the new limitations on BARR.

“NBAA and its members thank the leaders in Congress for taking action to address our industry’s long-standing concern that curtailment of the BARR program represents an invasion of privacy, a competitive threat to businesses, and a potential security risk,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “We commend the administration for working with our industry to implement this change.”

The Experimental Aircraft Association joined the effort by filing a friend of the court brief in support of the suit. After the FAA’s announcement, EAA President and CEO Rod Hightower said, “We appreciate the efforts of those in Congress who acted to preserve the privacy rights of aviators within the BARR program. We also applaud the efforts of those within the aviation community who worked together on this important issue.”

The court was scheduled to hear arguments Dec. 2. In advance of the hearing, the Department of Justice late Dec. 1 issued a letter to the court clerk, announcing that the FAA was withdrawing its policy that was at the center of the case. “Effective immediately, the FAA will no longer require an owner or operator of general aviation aircraft or of on-demand air charter aircraft (operating under 14 CFR Part 135) to submit a Certified Security Concern to block that owner or operator’s aircraft registration number form the FAA’s ASDI or NASSI data,” except for data made available to the government.