Qatar Airways allegedly subpoenaed internet giant Google in an attempt to get hold of account information that would reveal the names behind anonymous online accounts that have been critical of the Doha-based airline.
The subpoena was part of a lawsuit involving a popular internet chat board for pilots and other aviation enthusiasts. Qatar Airways filed a lawsuit against two anonymous accounts that had been posting insider information on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network (PPRuNE) website last June.
The lawsuit alleged that the two anonymous accounts had revealed confidential information about the airline – specifically its recruitment and re-joining activities.
Qatar Airways’ HR and disciplinary processes have long been scrutinized by non-governmental organisations and have been frequently criticized. Hiring and firing rules in Qatar are very different to what the airline’s largely expat pilot workforce might be used to in their home countries.
The lawsuit, filed in a Los Angeles court made it clear that Qatar Airways believed the anonymous posts had been written by current employees and that the airline was in the process of trying to identify them.
Lawyers acting on behalf of Qatar Airways claimed the pilots “owed a duty of care, skill, diligence and loyalty to Qatar Airways.”
“As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ breach of their duty to Qatar Airways, Qatar Airways has been damaged,” the lawsuit continued.
After filing a personal injury lawsuit in a U.S. court, Qatar Airways was then legally permitted to subpoena Google to retrieve account information which could reveal a treasure trove of information including account names and IP addresses of where the account is accessed.
Google is regularly subpoenaed for account information and will usually inform the account holder that they have received a subpoena and might release account information. Account holders then have an opportunity to appeal by filing a motion in the court that is dealing with the lawsuit.
One of the pilots involved in the lawsuit told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that he couldn’t afford to file a motion and feared Google would reveal his identity.
“PPRuNE was the only place that people have to talk and say things without fearing being prosecuted. But now, they even go there and try to find people,” another pilot told Reuters. Others told of how the airline had been monitoring private Facebook and Whatsapp groups and taking action against employees who criticized the airline.
Qatar Airways dropped the lawsuit in October claiming the defendants had not been identified. The airline used the same lawyers that filed a lawsuit against PPRuNe on behalf of Etihad Airways around a decade ago.
That lawsuit resulted in PPRuNE permanently blocking any discussions that involved the Abu Dhabi-based airline over fears it could result in more lawsuits.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.