back to article UK air traffic control goes after Wikileaks

The National Aviation and Transport Services (NATS) is threatening legal action against Wikileaks because the website has published a recording of the crashing of BA flight 038, call sign Speedbird 38, which came down just short of the Heathrow runway in 2008. Earlier this month Wikileaks published an audio recording of air …


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  1. Craig 12
    Thumb Down

    What is wrong with people

    This is textbook Streisand effect. I didn't even know or care about this, but now I can have a copy the material as well.... in addition to the thousands of other curious internetters. If something is on the net that you don't want to be there, just keep schtum and only a minority will care.

    As for the request, I can't see much in the way of justification. Assuming the audio is genuine, it surely can't be disputed as fact. So the only reason you would want for people not to hear it is if you had a bunch of other people about to claim events happened differently in an arse-covering exercise.

  2. Jimmy Floyd


    "Wikileaks does not often obey..."

    Implying it does sometimes?

    1. garetht t

      re: "often?"

      ..or subtle humour..?

      (Wikileaks has not yet confirmed rumours that it is about to release the tragic sound of a near miss as a loud whooshing sound passes several feet over Jimmy's head.)

  3. Hermes Conran


    I guess they don't want other airlines stealing their crashing methods....

  4. James O'Shea

    more idiocy

    1 If they hand't run their yaps I, for one would never have known the recording was on the site. Congrats for vastly increasing the number of people who know about the recording and where to get it.

    2 They don't seem to have a legal leg to stand on for this.

    3 I'm certain that lots of people have now downloaded it just in case it does get removed, even though it seems unlikely that it will be taken down. this means that they have _increased_ the number of copies floating around.

    4 the recording in question appears to be quite straight-forward.What's the big deal, anyway?

    1. JaitcH

      Safe behind the Great Firewall of China

      Several 'leak' sites are safely mirrored on servers in China including Wikileaks and Cryptome.

      Long live REAL open government!

  5. lukewarmdog

    Confidential Shmonfidential

    "this atmosphere of confidentiality allowed air traffic controllers and pilots to give evidence freely without fearing the consequences"

    What consequences are these then? What threats are being made that they don't want bringing into the public eye? Freedom to give evidence freely and without fear of consequence is surely enshrined in our legal system. As has already been said, I could care less before about the incident but now my interest is piqued by the demands for utmost secrecy.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      ARGHGHGHHHG it hurts my ears!


      .......said, I could care less before......

      Please, please no, don't start using this ridiculous American phrase - it makes *no* *sense*

      It's only three more characters to say it in normal, sensible English.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Look up the 2002 Überlingen mid-air collision. The air traffic controller in that crash was murdered by a relative of one of the victims even though he wasn't at fault. An extreme case, and it's unlikely to have *that* much bearing on this instance, but there are more consequences to this sort of thing than you might realise.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Despite it being broadcast over an open radio frequency for anyone to hear? (as most air traffic control is)....

    Yeah bite me and my recording, i thought i was tuned into radio 2!!!

  7. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


    On an accident recording? Is he NATS?

    Is he saying that it is a creative or an artistic work and is he claiming the right to exploit it commercially?

    Time to suggest to the survivors to sue his NATS off.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Terry H

    It's all backwards

    I want to live in a country where wankers like the MOST DIS-honorable Churchill-Coleman go to prison for making threats against the free press. And a country where it doesn't take 5 years of public outcry to obtain a grudging admission that, well maybe, I guess, we didn't actually have any legal authority to make such an ass of ourselves. But by all that is holly we SHOULD have it!

    When do CITIZENS aka real living human beings get to have rights too?

  9. Simon Pearce 1

    yeah, and?!

    "He added that the recording: "adds little to the public good apart from satisfying the public's general curiosity"."

    and? I found it fascinating!

  10. Martin 47

    ah wikileaks, rest in peace

    Of course when big brothers recording system of everything you send everywhere goes live (or liver!) 'they' will know who leaks to wikileaks, when and where.

    So no more of those pesky annoying leaks from the UK

  11. Stuart 22 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Treating us like kids?

    This recording, like the recent one release on the US Air going into the Hudson show how real professionals act under sudden and extreme real life threatening pressure. The calm, the focus on the immediate task are remarkable. A lesson to us in our own jobs and a comfort if we have to fly.

    May be an expert could find fault. If so they learn and it goes better if there is a next time. One should never have anything to hide in these circumstances, after all most of this was broadcast so any geek with a receiver could tune in anyway.

  12. Martin 6 Silver badge


    Being broadcast doesn't stop it being copyright.

    It does make it difficult to claim it is confidential or a 'matter of national security'.

    Which is why NATS's lawyers presumably told him to play the copyright card

    Which of course means that they do intend to publish it themselves - why else would you claim copyright ?

    1. Anonymous Coward


      So NATS plans to make a couple of quid on the CD, then?

    2. Nebulo

      Why else?

      So that when Wikileaks (whom God preserve) disregard this bollox, they can sic the undead Mandelson onto pulling the copyright noose a bit tighter around the internet's neck, perhaps?

  13. Anonymous Coward


    Good job NATS didn't control the moon landings. Otherwise we might never have heard "Houston, we have a problem ... ".

    The government always justifies laws on "if you have nothing to hide .. ". So when things are hidden by them which cannot have any national security issues what do they expect us to think?

  14. Chris Miller

    A rational explanation

    Air traffic control and cockpit audio are regularly recorded in order to assist in accident investigation. This is supported by those involved on the understanding that these recordings will not be released into the public domain - pilots are concerned that their families might be upset if recordings of their final moments of life were made available on the Internet following a crash. I think NATS are pursuing this matter (probably in full knowledge that it is futile to do so) in order to avoid giving any impression that this policy may have changed.

    In fact the recording appears to have leaked from the web site of Captain Burkill, who was in command of the ill-fated flight. He has provided a full explanation of how this happened on his blog:

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Chris Miller

      Light in a sea of darkness, Chris. Thank you.

  15. PirateSlayer

    @ others

    NATS is right to ask for this take down.

    NATS is concerned with safety...the integrity of an investigation is at stake. Good on them.

    This is like critical data being released about a crime due to some cretin's insatiable appitite for information (which neither benefits them, nor belongs to them), and their GREED causing a mistrial or trial collapse.

    I can only assume these black helicopters posters are more concerned about inventing myths and insinuating malpractice rather than having safe skies. Good job!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Cover up under construction

      "NATS is concerned with safety...the integrity of an investigation is at stake."

      Yes, _their own safety_. Obviously not the flyers.

      Tell us how the leaking of the evidence endangers "the integrity" (whatever that is) of the investigation?

      It's harder to do consistent cover-up fairy tale when leaked documents don't fit in?

      That's something I can agree with you.

  16. PirateSlayer


    In any safety culture, secrecy is utterly key. Otherwise what you get is a blame culture which benefits absolutely nobody (see local government examples ad infinitum, e.g. the Baby P case) where everyone blamed everyone for everything and absolutely fuck all got done or changed.

    When an air traffic controller fucks up do you want them to:

    a) blame everybody around them for their fault

    b) blame every system other than them for their fault

    c) keep quiet and hope a problem goes away

    d) blame their manager


    tell the truth about why they fucked up, explore areas which could be improved.

    The safety critical nature is what makes this information sensitive. Pilots, ATC, everyone needs to be able to make rational, blame free observations about a safety incident...or you end up with a pathetic Iraq war inquiry style report (which gives none of you conspiracy theorists any answers anyway, just more fuel).

  17. John G Imrie

    Copyright oh realy

    When did the air traffic controller an pilot sign over the copyright of their 'performance' to NATS.

    1. YARR

      They DO own it

      The copyright belongs to whoever made the recording, just as a photograph belongs to the photographer, not the subjects in it. Also their contract may prevent them from making their own recordings at work.

  18. RW

    What's actually happening

    Why all the bepuzzlement over this?

    What we are seeing here is merely another example of those in charge being totally allergic to the idea that they may be criticized for any reason at all, justified or unjustified. Hence, they prefer to hide, suppress, and deny evidence of their actions and inactions, not because they know they've fucked up, but because someone might interpret the facts as signs of a fuckup.

    "We can't have any criticism!" is the motto, it seems.

    The ultimate outcome of this attitude in a more everyday context is a form of organizational paralysis. If you make no decisions whatsoever, the strongest criticism that can be leveled at you is that you are indecisive. Some criticism! But if you are decisive and active, you are guaranteed to make mistakes from time to time, human nature being what it is.

    I blame the media for this attitude, not just the chicken-livered attitude of management types who know in their hearts they are amateurs and not worth even a quarter of what they earn.

    Readers may apply this lesson freely to any group of "people in charge." I will name no names.

  19. Bitsucker
    Thumb Up

    Thanks for the heads up!

    Fascinating video. Thought that ATC seemed to keep the show on the road, despite losing a runway. Loved the bit where the Captain of the 777 was advised that he was broadcasting the aircraft evacuation message!

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Not true.

    "...and that the confidentiality of evidence in such an inquiry was vital."

    Erm, no. Confidentiality of the evidence means that the witnesses can lie to their back teeth without fear of exposure.

    You only have to look at the Canadian Dziekanski tasering case to know that the truth would not have come out if it wasn't for the video showing the cops tasering the poor guy and his stapler to death. The cops lied about the circumstances and the video evidence showed it in shocking clarity.

    In this particular case, I'm sure the enquiry will listen to the tape, but I'm not sure why publishing the tape would make the witnesses' evidence any less reliable. More reliable more likely.

  21. h4rm0ny


    From what we've seen of the take down request, they sound reasonable. It can well make it more difficult for people to talk freely and comfortably if they think they don't have privacy. That's the chilling effect that we're always complaining about when the Government makes a new pass at invading our own privacy. Is there a compelling public need for this data? It seems markedly different from, say, facts about the Iraq war that the UK government would like to suppress.

    That said, I clicked the link and listened to it. I don't really understand what its all about, not being an air-traffic controller, but it sounded like a group of professionals handling things very calmly and very quickly with no messing around. Honestly, from a laypersons point of view, it shows the team in a good light. Maybe if you know what everything means you're asking yourself "why didn't they X", but I don't get the sense that this is the issue here.

    Beer for the people who handled all this (not while they're working, obviously).

    1. Anonymous Coward


      "It can well make it more difficult for people to talk freely and comfortably if they think they don't have privacy."

      Like in court? What's the difference? Court recordings are public documents.

      This isn't about peoples private lives, this is about a _plane accident_.

  22. Jelliphiish


    Discovery channel like that kind of footage for their AirCrash investigators series. they wants a chunk of that.

    scarcity keeps the prices up in any market.

  23. Richard Cartledge

    Staff announcement!

    Cleanup in aisle 2.

  24. Stephen Channell
    Thumb Up

    Motif UI

    Maybe they don’t want people to know that they still use Motif and X-Terminals!

  25. OldBiddie


    There must be something in this recording that they want to hide from the public - well done, now I shall seek it out just to see.

  26. s. pam

    Completely Bas Ackwards!

    Why isn't there a huge outcry over data security, information protection and the like and a formal inquest to how this got leaked in the first place?

    Oh, I'm very much mistaken, this is the UK -- we trust DVD's and CD's to ordinary post, even when part of formal legal proceedings. Privacy -- Bwahahahahaaaaaaaaaa

    1. Anonymous Coward

      The law, the post, and why things get lost.

      The interpretations Act 1978 section 7 means that nothing needs to be sent recorded delivery. If you write to your MP, correctly address it, put a stamp on it and put it in the post, then the onus is on the MP to prove they didn't get it, not you to to show you sent it.

      It does, of course, depend entirely on the sender being honest to start with.

      This, entertainingly is often used to mean that important legal things can just go in the post. No Group 4 van, no biometrics, just in da post.

      Isn't law wonderful?

      1. Dave Harris Silver badge

        Legal post

        is usually handled by the DX system, not the Royal Mail

  27. ElReg!comments!Pierre


    The amount of pubic disclosure mentioned in that email is disturbing...

  28. JaitcH

    Whose copyright is it anyway?

    The NATS fools seem to forget that apart from the fact air frequencies are open to anyone one with a VHF band AM receiver is that not all the voices are of people employed by NATS and therefore they are over-reaching.

    I hope they have the appropriate assignations of copyright and that they are not back-dated.

    WiKiLeaks is needed because of the obsessive use of secrecy whilst it, in turn, wants to know every last secret of its citizenry.

    Little wonder people are turning to PGP and TrueCrypt to protect their data or SecureGSM for voice.

  29. morrisman

    National Aviation and Transport Services ?

    Where did this dubious/wrong company name come from? NATS did, at one time, stand for National Air Traffic Services but now, in a kind of trendy way, just stands for NATS

  30. donc

    A number of reasons for this

    There are a number of reasons for the stance being taking and I think it is less something specific to this particular case but more as a general policy for air accident investigations.

    Recording pilot and ATC conversations needs the agreement of pilots and controllers (would you enjoy everything you say being recorded?) and so they need to have confidence that they will not instantly be blamed for something going wrong. This is not really an issue in this case but it could be in others.

    Investigations are run very carefully to ensure that no assumptions are made and that the real cause of the accident is identified so it can be addressed and prevented in the future. Consequently all information is very closely guarded until the final accident report is released.

    During an accident investigation the AAIB, NTSB, etc, has a lot of power, technical support is provided by the various manufacturers but they are there only as long as the accident investigation team is happy they are not trying to spin things their way. Indeed I have been told of one employee of a manufacturer discussing an accident with a colleague on the train home. This was overheard by a journalist and reported. The accident investigator worked out where the leak was from and excluded the manufacturers technical team for prejudicing the investigation. Investigators can request a company's competitors to provide technical support and have no requirement to involve the OEM so this is quite an incentive.

    As for what risk is there in the ATC recordings being posted it is only a few years ago that the Swiss controller on duty when two russian aircraft collided in mid-air was murdered by a relation of one of the victims so in some cases (not here) there can be some risk.

    Basically this is probably a "keep off the grass" type of threat.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Not swiss

      He wasen´t a Swiss he was a Dane working there. Facts are great if they are factual.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    HA HA

    Wikileaks response should be:

    Kiss my shiney metal fuselage!

  32. Tim Ward

    When I'm talking on the radio ...

    ... I know of course that what I'm saying can be heard by anyone with a VHF radio and an appropriate licence ...

    ... but that doesn't mean I want to see my joking with the air traffic controllers printed in the local newspaper, and if I kill myself I don't think my family would want the recording on the internet.

    1. Mephistro
      Big Brother

      @ Tim Ward

      "and if I kill myself I don't think my family would want the recording on the internet"

      Killing yourself would be a private act. If you are a flight controller your job is public, as the consequences of whatever you do there are public too.

      What would happen if you killed yourself in front of a tv camera? The video would be seen by every fucking body, either via internet or via tv, no matter what your family -or anyone- says or thinks about it. I'm not saying that this is good, but I can think of a good many public sectors that would improve a lot their performance if they were being watched by public cameras 24/7, or at least all the workhours.

      The icon? the only way to fight the big brother is having millions of 'little brothers' informed on everything the big brother does.

  33. Steve Roper

    The real reason

    they're claiming copyright in the recording is so that they can sell it to Air Crash Investigation later on at a high price. Now that it's been made public, it's been devalued (because no longer 'exclusive') and ACI won't pay as much for it.

    I agree with the first poster as well. The only reason they want this recording secret is so they can bullshit their way out of it. Obviously someone who is favoured 'at the highest levels' is being cast in a bad light and this cannot be allowed to happen!

    But as the saying goes... Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, right? The hypocrisy of this hackneyed statement is made clear every time something like this happens. NTHNTF only applies when it's citizens' information, doesn't it?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Folks, remember.....

    ...that aviation is a very highly regulated activity and that flight crew and ATC staff are used to following rules and regulations that most people do not have to. They don't like having their very regulated world exposed to scrutiny because their training emphasises not doing so but rather only publicising such information once it is carefully assessed as being correct for enhancing safety.

    While I have watched and listened to the video, I can understand that NATS are worried about the general principle of such information being released rather than this specific case. Yes, there is indeed an investigation ongoing, but that is now concentrating on the detail of the fuel system icing that occurred rather than on the crew actions and those of ATC.

    The recording shows that nothing but credit should be given to the people flying and controlling, they performed as well as anyone could in such circumstances and Mr Boeing's aeroplane did a very fine job of minimising injury to the crew and passengers.

    I suspect that as time goes on, aviation will have to adapt to the changes in the spread of information every other activity is now exposed to, but they'll have to be dragged kicking and screaming....

  35. Neoc

    NATS is half right.

    The recording shouldn't be copyrighted. There is no intrinsic commercial value in it (but there is commercial value in a show that uses it - go figure). On the other hand, they are right to point out that wikileak is being cavalier about an on-going investigation. By all mean, release the recording the second after the investigation returns its report - but doing it before hand is like contaminating the jury pool... poor showing.

    To misquote: "Shame Wikileak, shame".

  36. Tom 66
    Thumb Down


    If this was broadcast on BBC One at prime time the response of the vast majority of viewers would be 'fuck me, they're pretty calm and professional when it suddenly goes to shit in front of them, thank goodness NATS have got calm, solid, dependable guys there when we need them, I feel rather happier about getting in a plane now'. That was certainly my response. I'd put it on the screens at Piccadilly Circus, frankly.

    We knew months ago that there was nothing NATS could have done to stop the crash, it was a fault on the aircraft. Give us some credit, eh?

  37. Martin 6 Silver badge

    @A number of reasons for this

    But fully releasing ALL the details is the only way to reassure the public that it's safe.

    How would you feel if NATS (owned by BA and BAA) released a report saying that BA and BAA were completely free of blame - but all the details must be kept secret?

    This has been a problem with the FAA recently - their job is to set safety stands and perform inspections, but at the same time promote airline travel.

    Even the NTSB has been accused of being a little too close to the aircraft industry.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "How would you feel if NATS (owned by BA and BAA) released a report saying that BA and BAA were completely free of blame - but all the details must be kept secret?"

      All accident reports are crown copyright under the Health and Safety act.

      "The current shareholders are: the UK government (49%); The Airline Group (42%) which is a consortium of British Airways, BMI, EasyJet, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines, Thomson Airways and Virgin Atlantic; BAA (4%); and NATS employees (5%)."

      Not quite the bleak picture you paint but keep that tin foil hat, you might need it for the next government department that requires private funding.

  38. Trygve

    won't someone think of the trains?

    In several cases there have been put forward proposals for a 'black box' recorder to be installed in train cabs, to provide similar crash analysis information. One of the main reasons why this has never happened is that train drivers and other staff are very much opposed to having every thing they say and do during their entire working day recorded.

    With ATC and black-box recordings you are bugging people's workplace on the understanding they are to be used ONLY for safety-enhancing investigations, not for general entertainment, witch-hunts and the like, and I think that is what NATS may be trying to uphold (somewhat unfortunate that this stuff is often also sold to the Discover Channel or whatever, but there you go).

    ATC chit-chat is as near to public conversation as you can get, but I can well imagine that pilots still won't be happy about it ending up all over youtube. If the same thing starts happening with cockpit recordings, how long before people are regularly disconnecting the recorders so they can have a gossip about the chief stewards sex life without worrying about adverse publicity?

    1. Jeremy 2

      Re: won't someone think of the trains?

      Erm, Google for OTMR. 'Black boxes' are mandatory on all trains on Network Rail lines since Jan '08. They don't record voice (although radio/telephone comms are recorded at the signal box end) but they do record driver actions, several different indicators of speed, engine, braking and safety system states, etc, etc, even down to use of the horn, I believe.

      You're right about them being fairly unpopular with drivers though, for fear of witch-hunting.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Professional ATC

    I've heard the recording - links were provided via various pilots' forums - if anything NATS should be patting themselves on the back, or at least Heathrow's ATC, because you'll realise if you listen to the recording how professional and calm the controller was.

  40. Paul 4

    Wikileaks need to fuck off

    They post things with no thought for due legal process saying "well it needs to be in the open" and yet want to hide when the law comes looking for them. One day they will screw up a legal case (if they haven't already).

    You can't have it both ways. Wikileaks are the worst of the lot for saying "if you have nothing to hide... but don't look at my stuff"

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So you want to censor the internet then?

    If someone is willing to leak it then it should be down to that person to be punished for it not wikileaks.

    Once it's on the internet it's too late anyway, you can never get rid of it. All they end up doing is letting people know (by this site) that you can download the leaked information. Really the best thing they could do is just shut up and hope people forget.

  42. ShaggyDoggy


    NATS have clearly not heard of the Streisand effect then LOL

  43. ShaggyDoggy

    @yarr "They DO own it"

    ok mate go to the next <insert bandname> concert and record that on your iPhone

    you'll have copyright ?

    hahahaha get real

    1. Anonymous Coward

      You own the copyright of any recording you make...

      You made the recording, it's yours...

      However you don't own the performance rights. The guys on stage actually playing (We hope!) own that, and you certainly don't own the publishing copyright (The Music and Lyrics being performed).

      If you didn't distribute or allow anyone else to see your recording then you might be able to get the publishing lawsuit dropped (You didn't actually publish someone elses work), but as for the performance copyright infringement - run if the trained apes with the neon security vests start taking an interest in you...

      Making a recording in a a cinema is a little different depending what's on screen and what the audio is, but regardless you STILL own the copyright on your recording, it's just the contents of that recording that are infringing...

      I'll get my coat now..

      Anon, for obvious reasons

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Martin 6 re NATS ownership

    thanks to the web

    NATS is a public private partnership ownership is

    42% the Airline Group (consortium of British Airways, bmi British Midland, Virgin Atlantic, Thomson Airways, Monarch, easyJet and Thomas Cook Group)

    5% NATS staff

    4% BAA Limited,

    49% and a golden share, the government.

    So you ought to be more worried about it saying the government is doing a good job.

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