This research evaluates the privacy laws and ethical arguments regarding the actions of two Southwest airline pilots who live-streamed video feeds from hidden cameras installed in the lavatory. The privacy rights of passengers and flights attendants onboard were invaded. As a result, Steinaker, a plaintiff and other passengers were subjected to harm and sexual harassment. Based on utilitarianism and deontological ethical frameworks, the actions of the pilots are inappropriate. This investigation recommends the conviction of the pilots involved for having contravened the privacy laws and acted against ethical principles. However, future research undertaking should evaluate the policies and procedures that support the collection of adequate evidence to convict more offenders.
Two Southwest Pilots Invades Privacy
The succinct nature of invasion of privacy varies from one state to another in America. There are myriad types of privacy invasion including solitude, public disclosure, false light, and appropriation. Foremost, invasion of solitude comprise situations where someone interferes with another person’s right to be left alone. Moreover, public disclosure of private information involves scenarios where a person illegally and intentionally discloses private data of a person to unauthorized persons. Additionally, false light relates to privacy invasion where a person publishes untruthful information about another. Besides, appropriation is where a person uses another’s likeliness for monetary or profit gains.
The lawsuit filed regarding two southwest pilots is a case of solitude invasion. In this case, Steinaker, a flight attendant is suing the airline company and two pilots who invaded the privacy of passengers and attendants. They invaded the privacy by installing hidden cameras in the bathroom to watch. In the lawsuit, Steinaker reveals that she noticed an iPad in the cockpit live-streaming video from the lavatory section. The plaintiff says that she reported the matter to the management. Instead, the airline company did not address the issue but threatened her, and even warned against speaking about the incident as it could damage the airline’s reputation. Steinaker’s husband is also enjoined in the lawsuit previously filed in Maricopa County, Arizona but later reassigned to a federal court. The action of the pilots is unlawful and ethically incorrect because it caused physical and psychological harm to Steinaker and other passengers.
The main issues arising from the case are deliberate or irresponsible infliction of emotional anguish, invasion of privacy, and sexual harassment. Fundamentally, privacy is protected under the federal law. The law recognizes and protects people against any form of invasion of privacy, including solitude and public disclosure of private information. As well, the law protects personal privacy against intrusion. Per Marmor (2015), a person cannot intentionally intrude upon a seclusion, solitude or private affairs by use of a microphone or a spying device. The fundamental laws that were broken in the case are the general law of privacy and the constitutional right to privacy. The general law of privacy relates to a tort action or damages resulting from unlawful invasion of privacy while the constitutional law protects people against unlawful invasion of privacy by employers or third party.
The plaintiff argues that the privacy of those onboard was invaded including children who visited the lavatory where the cameras were hidden. The invasion gives rise to a cause of action, and on this occasion, the concurrent invasion inflicts injury on the plaintiff. In addition, the laws broken in the case do not depend on the justification provided by the co-pilot on the reason why they hid cameras in the lavatory section. Lazo (2019) elaborates how the co-pilot justified the use of hidden cameras in the lavatory as a new security measure in all aircrafts operating under the company. In view of the above, the action of the pilots is offensive to all people whose activities in the bathroom were captured by the hidden cameras.
Historically, the violation of privacy rights determines a cause of action. As such, privacy violation has been considered a tort in previous cases. Although it is claimed that in many lawsuits that have been determined, tort has been assumed to be a form of libel or slander, creating a difference between an action of libel and privacy violation laws (Marmor, 2015). For example, the case of Smith vs. Doss of 1948 shows that in the event that privacy of a person is infringed, truth cannot be used as a defense to prove considerable damages. In the case, the Supreme Court judges argued that invasion of privacy is allowed if it serves public interest. As a consequence, lawsuits are either filed to recover damages or seek an injunction if the actions do not serve a common good. In the case of Southwest Airline Company, the plaintiff is seeking an injunction to stop the airline company from retaliatory acts and subjection to unnecessary performance evaluation and drug tests.
Similarly, a plaintiff may allege intentional intrusion of privacy rights by asserting that the intrusion was substantial and highly offensive. It is claimed that the hidden cameras installed in the lavatory offensively captured private activities of the plaintiff and other passengers on board (Lazo, 2019). The magnitude of the cases should be supported by substantial evidence. For instance, in the case of Tapia v. Sikorsky Aircraft Div. of 1998, the judges ruled that the plaintiff needed to plead and prove that invasion of privacy resulted in distress and bodily harm. For that reason, to convict the offenders, Steinaker needs to provide substantial evidence other than the image she captured of the iPad installed in the cockpit. The allegation must be supported by overwhelming evidence establishing the mental suffering, shame, and humiliation arising from a video of her captured in the bathroom.
The invasion of privacy case can be explained using ethical theories. Foremost, utilitarian ethical theory considers the consequences of actions and decisions made. As such, an action is ethical when it serves a common good to the greatest number of people. Per Roux & Falgoust (2013), utilitarianism theory supports reasoning that weighs out the impact of an action against a common interest. Therefore, installing hidden cameras to watch passengers and flight attendants using the lavatory is ethically incorrect. As such, the pilots were fulfilling personal interests and needs. It is unfair to install hidden cameras without informing the lavatory users that they are being watched. The activity of the pilots directly harms the passengers both physically and mentally.
Deontological ethical framework also applies to the case. Deontological principle takes into account principles of respect and dignity. Per Roux & Falgoust (2013), humans should be treated with dignity and respect because they have rights. In the consequence, people have the responsibility to respect the privacy rights of others and treat them in a manner that is appropriate. The action of the pilots is ethically inappropriate as they intentionally watch people using the lavatory without consent. Moreover, the conduct of the pilots directly compromises the dignity of Steinaker, the plaintiff who may be forced to work with the same pilots in future.
The right to privacy is the most cherished right in the United States. The right to privacy is often balanced against the needs and personal actions that encourage exposure or pursuit of an action. The investigation has discovered that privacy rights exist and damages are enforced to those who violate them. The decision by the pilots of Southwest Airline Company is unlawful and ethically incorrect. As such, this research recommends the conviction of the pilots to act as a wake-up call to other people planning to intentionally invade the privacy of others for selfish gains. Future research undertaking should evaluate policies and procedures that allow individuals to collect adequate evidence to be used in convicting offenders.
Lazo, L. (2019). Two Southwest pilots hid a camera in a plane’s lavatory and live-streamed video to the cockpit, according to lawsuit. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2019/10/27/two-southwest-pilots-hid-camera-planes-lavatory-live-streamed-video-cockpit-according-lawsuit/.
Marmor, A. (2015). What is the right to privacy? Philosophy and Public Affairs, 43(1), 3-26.
Roux, B. & Falgoust, M. (2013). Information ethics in the context of smart devices. Ethics and Information Technology, 15(3), 183-194.