Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) Program

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Background of the BARR Program

Updated May 9, 2011

Since the inception of for-profit flight tracking services, aircraft operators have had the ability to protect their operations and prevent strangers from tracking individual movements. At all times, the FAA, Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies have access to information on all flights. The BARR program, enabled by Congress in 2000, “blocks” aircraft movements from public dissemination upon request.

The BARR program was established to address security-related, commercial, and privacy imperatives, and is essential to protect general aviation aircraft and flight information from real-time public availability. The BARR service constitutes the exclusive means by which such aircraft owners or operators can prevent unknown persons anywhere in the world from monitoring, on a real-time basis, the location of general aviation aircraft and the personal movements of individuals, protect proprietary business information, and alleviate security concerns.

U.S. companies and individuals utilize all modes of transportation – the use of a general aviation aircraft is often essential in meeting a portion of their transportation needs. U.S. citizens have a fundamental right to privacy in their movements in all modes of transportation – it sets a dangerous precedent to establish a policy that personal movements in any type of vehicle (whether car, train or airplane) can be broadcast against a citizen’s will. The BARR program provides a “do not track” option similar to other opt out programs throughout government.

I. History and Evolution of the Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) Program.

Within the U.S. airspace system regulated by the FAA, all commercial aircraft and a number of general aviation aircraft operate under instrument flight rules (IFR). The information from the flights plans and on board transmitters required by such rules is incorporated into the FAA’s Enhanced Traffic Flow Management System (ETMS) for the purpose of traffic flow management. The FAA uses this data to develop a Traffic Situation Display (TSD) that visually depicts IFR aircraft that are airborne and receiving IFR services in the national airspace system. The data includes the location, altitude, airspeed, destination, estimated time of arrival and tail number of air carrier and general aviation aircraft operating on IFR flight plans within U.S. airspace.

In December 1997, the FAA created the Aircraft Situation Display to Industry (ASDI) data feed. The ASDI feed uses Traffic Situation Display information.

In order to subscribe to the FAA’s ASDI data feed, a company must enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with the FAA. The MOA sets forth the conditions and limitations by which a direct subscriber can make the ASDI feed available to secondary subscribers and by which a direct subscriber and can market the data to commercial customers. Subscribers can obtain either a near real-time data display or an historical display.

The origins of the block program trace to 1997, when flight-tracking web sites began to proliferate. Based on privacy, competition and security concerns about data being used for improper purposes, aviation groups began to petition to FAA to restrict release of the data to a need-to-know basis.

Responding to testimony by aviation leaders that Congress should enact laws that would ensure that real time flight information and data would be provided only to those with a legitimate use for such data, in 2000 Congress enacted Section 729 of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, Pub. Law 106-181 (April 5, 2000), which provided that:

Sec. 729 Aircraft Situational Display Data

a. In General—A memorandum of agreement between the Administrator and any person that directly obtains aircraft situational display data from the Federal Aviation Administration shall require that—

(1) the person demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Administrator that the person is capable of selectively blocking the display of any aircraft-situation- display-to industry derived data related to any indentified aircraft registration number; and

(2) the person agrees to block selectively the aircraft registration numbers of any aircraft owner or operator upon the Administration’s request.

FAA then modified the Memorandum of Agreement required of all ASDI vendors to reflect this legislative language and created a formal enforcement mechanism on the various ASDI vendors.

II. The BARR Program Protects the Legitimate Privacy and Security Interests of General Aviation Aircraft Owners and Operators

In the Memorandum of Agreement that FAA requires all ASDI vendors to sign before the FAA will turn on the ASDI feed, the agency recognized that the BARR program serves to protect the legitimate security and privacy interests of aircraft owners, operators, and their passengers. For example, section 9 of the MOA is entitled “”Privacy and Security Interests” and provides:

While commercial operators conduct business according to a published listing of service and schedule, general aviation operators do not. It is possible that public knowledge of the flight information of general aviation operators could compromise the privacy and/or security of individuals…If the FAA determines that any Direct and/or Indirect Subscribers develop and/or market products that violate this provision, the FAA’s rights [to terminate the agreement immediately “for security or privacy issues”] shall apply.

The BARR program was established because security-related, commercial, and privacy imperatives make it absolutely essential to protect general aviation aircraft and flight information from real-time public availability.

As noted, in 2000, the Congress enacted legislation that recognized that security and privacy considerations dictated that a mechanism should be put in place to enable aircraft registration numbers to be blocked from public distribution in the ASDI feed from the FAA. Subsequently, the FAA has fully supported the development and operation of the BARR. The FAA has recognized that the BARR satisfies the agency’s mandate to protect the privacy and security interests of aircraft owners and operators that otherwise would inevitably be compromised by the real-time release of flight information and data from the ASDI feed – without diminishing in any way the availability of the information to the FAA and law enforcement agencies.

FAA, as well as the general public, has honored the principle that aircraft owners and operators are entitled to have the movements of their aircraft protected from public dissemination, just as the general public lacks any right to know the travels of private motor vehicles on the nation’s highways.

III. Government Privacy Policies

The right to privacy is a core freedom guaranteed by the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In 1890, Justice Louis Brandeis extolled the right to privacy as “a right to be left alone.” To give this right meaning, Congress has repeatedly enacted protections for the American people against disclosures of personal information. These laws have a common premise: where an individual has disclosed personal information to the government for one purpose, it will not be disclosed to third parties for another purpose. This is the way it is with health and tax information, and almost every other type of personal data.

The policies and procedures of both federal and state governments in the U.S. have long recognized the need to protect information about the private movements of individuals and private companies from unknown third parties.

  • For example, the Federal, state and local governments do not make public the information it controls on the movements of automobiles that utilize E-Z Pass technologies. Transit entities like Metro do not make public the information they have on smart card holders. And, it is illegal for Amtrak and the commercial airlines to make public the names and itineraries of their passengers. Tracking an aircraft tail number is the equivalent of the government allowing people to track the movements of an automobile license plate.
  • Throughout government, citizens’ privacy rights are a primary concern. For example, the FCC allows citizens to add their numbers to a “do not call list” and prevent unwanted personal intrusions.

Executive Branch departments and independent agencies have played a vital role in the protection of personal privacy – often leading the way. Since the early days of the Internet, for example, the FTC has been instrumental in using its section 5 enforcement powers to ensure businesses give adequate notice of their privacy practices, keep their promises, and protect consumer information.

Today, new technologies are engendering new challenges to privacy, not the least of which is the tracking of personal activity. E-ZPass was just the beginning. The proliferation of smartphones, radio-frequency identification devices, GPS, and “super-cookies” has exacerbated concerns about personal privacy. In December 2010, the FTC and the Department of Commerce released draft reports discussing the tracking problem (among others) and the need for a new regulatory framework. The Department of Commerce recommended the adoption of baseline Fair Information Practice Principles (“FIPPs”). Though the report did not recommend specifics, it cited the Department of Homeland Security’s FIPPs as an example. DHS’s FIPPs include a “use limitation” – personal information should only be “shared for a purpose compatible with the purpose for which [it] was collected.” This would certainly prohibit a smartphone application from making public the real-time location data it collects to provide turn-by-turn directions.

For its part, the FTC recognized the special character of location-based data and urged that it be destroyed as soon as no longer needed. The FTC also called for a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would enable Internet users to prevent behavioral advertising companies from tracing their web-browsing habits.

The FAA’s development of the BARR Program, established more than a decade ago the equivalent of a “Do Not Track My Flight” list, was a prescient harbinger of current proposals to prevent the tracking of other categories of private activity. The principle driving Congress’s privacy efforts and the FTC’s and Department of Commerce’s recent reports – that government’s job is to protect the individual from unwanted invasions of privacy – is precisely the same principle that led to the establishment of the BARR Program.

The advent of ASDI technology represented a huge leap forward in the FAA’s wherewithal to manage U.S. airspace and control the flow of air traffic. But it also facilitated the dissemination of information about wholly private activities – whether by individuals or private companies – in ways that a great many found fundamentally objectionable. By accommodating those objections with a willingness to block public disclosure of tracking data on request of the owner or operator of the aircraft, the government responded in an effective way to these concerns without compromising the unquestioned value of the information to the government. To reverse that long-standing policy now – when the need for such protection is so widely recognized in connection with so many other activities - would run fundamentally counter to the public interest.

For More Information

If you have questions about the current BARR program, or the proposed limitations, please contact NBAA's Operations Services Group at (202) 783-9250 or info@nbaa.org.