updated 1/20/2004 9:37:34 PM ET 2004-01-21T02:37:34

An electronic privacy group called for an investigation into Northwest Airlines on Tuesday after reports that the nation’s fourth-largest carrier shared passenger data with the government after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center complaint, filed with the Transportation Department, calls for possible sanctions against Northwest for what it called unfair and deceptive trade practices. The center also asked the Transportation Department to order Northwest to notify all affected passengers that travel information was disclosed to NASA.

Eagan-based Northwest gave passenger records covering October to December 2001 to NASA for a study on passenger screening. NASA kept the records for about two years, returning them to Northwest after JetBlue Airways found itself apologizing to its passengers for sharing data with a defense contractor.

JetBlue’s chief executive sent an apologetic e-mail to customers in September after revelations that the airline gave 5 million passenger itineraries to a Defense Department contractor studying ways to identify “high risk” airline customers.

The release of Northwest’s records was made public over the weekend by the privacy group, which used the Freedom of Information Act to request NASA documents that showed that Northwest had shared the data.

The group said Northwest violated its own privacy policy by sharing the records, and pointed out that Northwest chief executive Richard Anderson and spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch both denied last year that the airline shared the data. On Sunday, Northwest said Anderson and Ebenhoch had been unaware that the records were given to the government at the time they were asked about it.

Northwest had no comment on the complaint on Tuesday.

Northwest hasn’t said how many passenger records were involved, but Transportation Department figures show the airline carried more than 10.9 million people during that time.

The privacy group’s general counsel, David Sobel, said his group plans to sue on Thursday to force NASA to release more information, including whether other airlines shared such data.

The Transportation Department said it would look into the complaint.

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