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Falsifying Records Can Put Lives at Risk

July 2, 2009
Photo credit: Aviationphotos.info

Photo credit: Aviationphotos.info

Falsifying electronic records has been a problem ever since they entered our everyday business lives. Time after time, we’ve seen instances where individuals maliciously tamper with IP ownership documents, contracts, budget numbers and other forms of electronic evidence. While these are all undesirable scenarios that have serious financial, legal and regulatory consequences, tampering of these records rarely results in injury or death. Some electronic records, however, are actually used in highly regulated industries to ensure safety of everyday citizens. Dependent on industry, these records might log things like hours worked, compliance training and safety procedures – all things that impact job performance and on-the-job safety.

Unfortunately, when records of this nature are purposefully altered, the consequences can be grave. Take Gulfstream International Airlines for example. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, current and former employees allege that the airline tampered with electronic flight logs and falsified flight hours in order to allow pilots to fly additional hours than the federal safety rules allow.

“Mary Hebig, who worked as a crew-scheduling supervisor at the carrier from March 2005 to July 2007, said in an interview that the flight-dispatch department frequently and retroactively changed flight hours in the computer system without conferring with pilots or with her department.

When an initial check of computerized schedules showed that certain pilots had run out of allowable flight hours, according to Ms. Hebig, ‘dispatch would call back and say, check them again.’ Often, it was apparent the numbers had been changed between calls and ‘suddenly, the crew had a rebirth; they were now legal to fly’ more trips, she alleged.”

And while Gulfstream did not operate the Feb. 12 Continental Connection Flight 3407 that killed 50 people, fatigue has been frequently reported as a cause of airline industry crashes, making the allegations against Gulfstream extremely troubling. The Federal Aviation Administration recently proposed a $1.3 million penalty against Gulfstream, accusing it of “scheduling crew members in excess of daily and weekly flight-time limitations.” David Hackett, chief executive of Gulfstream International Group Inc., argues that the airline never changed work records in an attempt to bypass the rules.

Putting aside the argument of who’s right or wrong, the mere idea that flight logs can be tampered with is a scary thought. Federal safety rules are in place for a reason, and the thought of someone violating them (for whatever reason) should stop us all in our tracks. Electronic records are in need of safekeeping from individuals who are tempted to alter them. Products such as Surety’s AbsoluteProof, could have played a major role in this particular case. AbsoluteProof’s digital timestamping technology would have legally and irrefutably proved whether or not the electronic flight logs had in fact been tampered with. Thus, the FAA’s investigation would be an open and shut case, proving Gulfstream’s guilt or innocence.

We’ll stay on top of this story and report back with the end result of this case. Regardless of its outcome, we hope this experience helped the airline (and the entire FAA, for that matter) realize the necessity for proper electronic document security measures. Failing to implement proper precautions could end up being a life or death scenario.

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