Feds Close in on Monitoring Airborne Wi-Fi Communications

According to Wired, news has surfaced that the popular in-air Wi-Fi services available to passengers on airlines such as Southwest and United may not be as secure as previously thought. Due to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CAELA for short, many of the providers responsible for offering these conveniences have been openly cooperating with US law enforcement in yet another in a long line of brazen offenses on the personal privacy of the average traveler in and out of the States.

If you’ll remember a few months back, we reported that along with communications that took place beyond the international date line in foreign waters, the NSA was having an especially difficult time tracking the communications of anyone who was utilizing the free Wi-Fi available to members of the mile-high club. Because the service (and the technology that makes it possible) are both fairly new, the NSA had yet to determine a safe, foolproof way to spy on the activities of average Americans at 30,000 feet without making it obvious they were the ones slowing down a system which already barely maintains a crawl at best.

What’s surprising this time around is instead of the NSA forcing its way in through an open door and quietly standing in the back of the room taking notes like usual, Gogo has enabled them to easily circumvent the entire process by giving the agency front row seats on a lifetime basis.

The company has been almost suspiciously cooperative with every data request the NSA has put in, not even stopping to smell the roses or vet the cases on a person by person basis. Entire flight logs are being handed over without so much as a “Why do you need this information?” being exchanged between both parties during the whole transaction. Gogo went above and beyond the normal call of duty that most services like Google and Yahoo have had to answer to through programs like PRISM, submitting far more than what was required of them by the guidelines in the CALEA framework.

“In designing its existing network, Gogo worked closely with law enforcement to incorporate functionalities and protections that would serve public safety and national security interests,” Gogo attorney Karis Hastings wrote.


Photo: GoGo

When questioned about the allegations, Gogo claimed they weren’t the only one’s in the game giving up client details and personal information to local law enforcement, naming other major providers like Aircell or Panasonic Avionics in a shameless effort to shift some of the blame.

A spokesperson for the company elaborated on that sentiment further in an official statement to Pando Daily News:

“Gogo does what all airborne connectivity companies have been asked to do from a security perspective, and it has nothing to do with monitoring traffic. Beyond that, we can’t comment beyond what’s in our public comments with the FCC.”

Unfortunately, if you want both the convenience of a Wi-Fi hotspot and the ease of flying across an entire country in five hours, there isn’t a lot of room left to complain about the situation.

Even though much of what Gogo is up to may seem like backroom, under-the-table type stuff, the fine print of their service agreement clearly lays out what we’re getting ourselves into once we click the “Accept” button on their Terms of Use.

“Gogo be required by law “to record some or all of your communications” and that it may “disclose your Personal Information (including your Account Information) and your communications through the Services, if required by law … or if we believe in good faith that such disclosure is necessary to: (a) comply with relevant laws or to respond to subpoenas or warrants served on us; or (b) protect or defend the rights, property, or safety of Gogo, you, other users, or third parties (especially in emergency situations).”