The airline used private passenger data to spy on a journalist suspected of getting insider information from a high-ranking member of its supervisory board, news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Saturday.
The journalist, who worked for business magazine Capital and later Financial Times Deutschland, was on Lufthansa’s radar since the mid-1990s for consistently reporting on confidential board matters.
In 2001, Lufthansa’s board commissioned its security department to find the informant among its ranks, according to the magazine. The company used internal passenger data to identify the journalist, a frequent flier with Lufthansa. The two were seen together when the journalist flew to Hamburg aboard a Lufthansa flight to meet with his informant, a long-working employee representative, at the Lufthansa airport lounge.
The airline has confirmed it snooped on the journalist but added that internal passenger data did not enjoy the same protection as telephone data. “We did nothing illegal,” a Lufthansa spokesman was quoted as saying by the magazine.
The incident comes on the heels of a massive spying scandal at Deutsche Telekom which is under fire for breaching data privacy by hiring an outside firm to surreptitiously track hundreds of thousands of phone calls by senior executives and journalists to identify the source of leaks to the news media about the company’s internal affairs.
Earlier this week, media reports said German rail, Deutsche Bahn, had used the same firm that snooped on journalists and executives for Telekom. But a Deutsche Bahn spokesman insisted that external experts had worked on individual cases as part of the company’s strict anti-corruption program.