Ottawa kills idea of audio spying at airports (for now), Report from IATA in Beijing.
It's great news that the Harper government has backed down from plans to install listening devices at Canadian airports and border crossings. The crazy thing is, how on earth did it ever get this far in the first place and where does Harper get off lecturing the Chinese about human rights?
For those who missed it, The Star on Monday reported on a plan by the Canada Border Services Agency to introduce audio and video monitoring at Canadian airports.
Cameras we've kinda gotten used to, although their probably are many we don't need. But to listen in on private conversations? Absurd.
The Star on Monday confirmed that the federal privacy commission's office hadn't even received a Privacy Impact Assessment regarding the plan. Maybe the Tories thought we wouldn't notice.
Appalling, really. Maybe airport conversations aren't a national, sexy issue, but you'd have to think the Liberals might gain some ground on this if they play their privacy cards right. After all, the Tories also had that pesky Internet surveillance issue not long ago.
"The recording of conversations obviously constitutes a privacy intrusion," said a spokesperson for the federal privacy commissioner when asked about the eavesdropping issue. "We would want the CBSA to demonstrate the necessity ofr it. In addition, should the measure be deemed necessary, CBSA would have to demonstrate that it has proper safeguards to manage the information, proper compliance mechanisms and appropriate oversight."
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on Tuesday decided to halt the eavesdropping idea until a Privacy Impact Assessment can be submitted and recommendations from the privacy commissioner can be reviewed by the Harper government.
But that doesn't make me feel confident in any way that this is over.
CHINA ON THE RISE AND SOCIAL MEDIA IN TRAVEL
Star Travel guy Bert Archer files this report from Beijing:
Given the setting, there was a lot of talk about China. We learned, for instance, that three of the top 10 airlines in the world by volume are Chinese, that Chinese airlines sold 132 million tickets last year, that it was the first country to offer across-the-board e-ticketing, and that Beijing’s enormous three-terminal airport, which handled 77 million passengers in 2011, is now the world’s second busiest. Meanwhile, the English-language Chinese newspapers were reporting that the weakness of the euro against the yuan was encouraging record numbers of young Chinese to take a year or more abroad to study in Europe and travel around the continent while they’re at it. In the travel world, China is getting to be a very big deal indeed.
IATA chief Tony Tyler also reported that in the 11 months and 11 days he’d been at the job, he had taken 165 flights and visited 32 countries. Now that’s a business traveler.
Amid the copious schmoozing that’s the real draw and the real point of such global gatherings, there were formal discussions about social media, the way tickets get sold to passengers, and an odd broadside launched across the bow of Air Canada and more than a dozen other airlines in attendance by an increasingly frustrated, and possibly desperate, Emirates airlines.
It’s in places like this, where all the decision makers are gathered together, that the momentum for changes to the way we all fly and travel can begin to build, so it’s always fascinating to see
In the social media realm, ex-pat Canadian Anita Mendiratta, a tourism consultant for CNN among others, led the discussion of how airlines are using, should be using, and should not be using social media. Execs from KLM/Air France (Martin van der Zee), JetBue (James Hnat) and Air Asia (Azran Osman-Rani) told stories of how well it’s working for them, how it makes every employee a “brand ambassador,” and how it is all, self-evidently, the future and the future is good.
But a poll that IATA took of its membership in preparation for the discussion and found the very few of its members used social media personally, which implied the reason most of the airlines not on the dais make such poor use of this new and possibly permanent form of communication. Among those who did use it, it largely wasn’t Facebook or Twitter, but LinkedIn. “Five years from now,” said Osman-Rani to the gathered airline execurati, “this room has got to be filed with people who have very active social media accounts. If you don’t have that in five years from now, you’re going to be irrelevant.”
One of the more enlightening bits of the discussion was the contribution from Zhao Tian, editor in chief of CN.com, which is behind China’s post popular social media site, Weibo. As everyone in the room had already noticed, you can’t use Facebook or Twitter in China, which made Zhao’s definition of social media, “a way you connect to the world,” either amusing or distressing, depending on your point of view on Chinese insularity.
The other compelling on-stage discussion was about ticket sales. Against the backdrop of the otherwise obscure way airlines use intermediaries to sell their tickets around the world came a heated and mostly one-sided conversation about how backwards it all was.
“Frankly, the sandwich shop on the corner can do more through Google today than the airline,” said retired Air Canada CEO Monte Brewer, “and that’s basically because you have to get data.”
He pointed out that whenever an airline did anything remotely creative, like Air Canada’s own “fare families,” which let people pay more for greater booking flexibility for what are otherwise the same seats, the system through which travel agents are more or less obliged to sell the tickets through – developed in the 70s and still often operated off of green-screen monitors -- has no way to giving any of those details to customers. Unless you buy directly from the airline – including buying through Kayak or Expedia – you’d never know what your options were.
Jeremy Wertheimer, a Google exec, was also on the panel. He said that eight years ago, he put six engineers on the problem for six months and they came up with an entirely new and simpler system for people to be able to get all their information from the airlines themselves using a simple Google search, but had to shelve it when contractual obligations to the old systems prevented many airlines from sharing the requisite data.
The general feeling, among panellists and audience members, was that things were going to have to change, and soon. “I’m 54. I don’t know what I don’t know about what’s happening about what’s going to change and what it’s going to look like," Brewer said in an interview after the panel. He added, “if the industry doesn’t have something in front of them to do it, [if they don’t know] what they want to do and how they want to do it, there’s going to be even more disruption and unhappiness for everybody involved.”
The Dubai airline loaded the media table on the first day of the proceedings with copies of an expensively produced booklet called Airlines and subsidy: our position, in which they set out to convince people that though many airlines are subsidized, Emirates is not, and should therefore be allowed to fly wherever and whenever it likes, instead of having to deal with the sorts of restrictions they’re facing at Pearson from a government that figures they represent unfair – and heavily subsidized – competition to Air Canada.
Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu, also in Beijing for the AGM, responded to the booklet by saying it was old news and words to the effect that Gulf airlines are owned by their governments so of course they’re subsidized, and generally made it clear that the issue was beneath his consideration. One got the impression from his bearing that there may be quite a few things that fit into this category, journalists almost certainly among them.