An airline passenger advocate has accused Delta Airlines of hacking her e-mail accounts and computer in order to sabotage her organization’s lobbying efforts to pass federal legislation to help stranded fliers, according to a lawsuit filed in Texas Tuesday.
Kate Hanni, the executive director and founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights , also known as FlyersRights.org, recently learned from America Online that her organization’s AOL e-mail — which included spreadsheets, lists of donors, and other data — was being re-directed to an unspecified location.
Hanni alleges in her complaint that the e-mail hacking began in 2008. She’s suing Delta and Metron Aviation, Inc. to discover how they obtained her correspondence. She also alleges that other files on her personal computer were “hacked, copied and then corrupted,” rendering all the data on her laptop useless.
She says Delta obtained the information and used it to sabotage her organization’s efforts to get the Airline Passenger’s Bill of Rights of 2009 passed through Congress. The Passenger’s Bill of Rights would force airlines to recognize passenger rights during long tarmac delays and provide them with food, water, and access to restrooms and clean air. Passengers would also have the option to leave the plane if the delay lasts longer than three hours.
According to the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, her opponents had good reason to target her, since airlines stand to lose at least $40 million in revenue if required to provide such services to passengers.
Hanni had been in communication with Frederick J. Foreman, a consultant for Metron, who provided an analysis of airline flight delays for the Federal Aviation Administration. Foreman co-authored a report, which found that Delta was one of the top airlines experiencing excessive tarmac delays. According to the lawsuit, he was authorized by Metron to share with Hanni publicly available information and statistics.
But in late September, Foreman was fired by Metron after the company obtained e-mails that Foreman had exchanged with Hanni and two reporters — Gary Stoller of USA Today and freelance journalist Susan Stelling. Delta is a client of Metron, and Foreman was told the airline wasn’t happy that he was providing Hanni with data she could use to get the Passengers’ Bill of Rights passed.
According to an affidavit from Foreman, the e-mails came from Foreman’s private Hotmail and Yahoo accounts. Metron told Foreman that Delta had provided it with copies of his private e-mail correspondence.
Hanni is suing Delta and Metron to determine how they obtained the e-mails and her personal files. She’s asking for at least $1 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages.