Suicidal Pilot Does Not Justify Privacy Violations

30 March 2015

Dr. Sreedhar Potarazu argues at Fox News that we must violate medical privacy of some people to protect the rest of us.  He uses Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz as his poster boy to justify such intrusions.

Here's Dr. Potarazu's logic in a nutshell.  The co-pilot, Andras Lubitz, failed to honestly report to his employer that his doctor gave him a note to stay home and not fly and because his doctor could not violate medical privacy to alert Germanwings, Lubitz was able to cause the deaths of the passengers aboard the airliner.  Dr. Potarazu then connects the dots that "we" cannot trust people to report health problems and due to the jobs various people have, we must take away that privacy to protect the rest of us.

Here's where the problem comes in.  His logic is shoddy.  If we intentionally violate a flight crew's medical privacy for the "greater good," we open the door to everyone's privacy being violated.  The case can be made the computer programmers who work on software for traffic lights could negatively impact our lives because of a software bug when they have a bad day.  The same case could be made regarding janitors who might slip poisonous cleaning chemicals into food stores after hours because they're depressed.

In other words, this is a slipper slope.  We should always jealously guard our privacy and by extension, the privacy of others.  Is there some risk?  Sure.  But that's why mitigations can be put into play, such as requiring both pilot and co-pilot to remain in the cockpit and watch each other.

To intentionally violate someone's medical privacy out of fear is wrong.  And that's exactly what Dr. Potarazu is doing.  He's afraid and to him it's simple math.  He's wrong.  When it comes to freedom and privacy, it's never simple math.