Question Authority and Why It’s Time to Fight Security Superstition

Consider Yourself Warned

I have a confession to make.

When I’m on an airplane, and the flight attendant tells everyone to turn off their cell phones and personal electronics, I never turn my iPhone off. I just leave it on. I’m not sure why I don’t turn it off. Probably because I’ve never seen any compelling evidence on how cell phones in the on position affect flight safety in any way shape or form. And since I have a natural bent to buck against the system, in light of no empirical evidence, I tend to disregard and dismiss authority.

Same thing goes for the gas station. When I see that little sign that says to turn off my cell phone, I don’t do it. I leave it on. I even talk on it while I’m pumping my gas.

When I was told not to take pictures at Newark International Airport last December by a New Jersey Police Officer I complied while he was within immediate sight, and then took my camera right back out and started taking as many photos as I wanted after the police officer had passed.

Cory Doctorow has a post out today called “Time to Fight Security Superstition,” and I agree with him. I’m tired of taking my shoes off at the airport. I can’t imagine anything really hidden in a shoe that could possibly take down a flight. I don’t know why my laptop has to be taken out my bag and put into a separate bin alone. Recently on a flight I put my MacBook and my cell phone in the same bin. I got an extra special personal security search by a TSA agent. While he was searching me he asked me, “do you know why I singled you out?” I answered “no,” and he said, “because you didn’t put your laptop in a bin all by itself. You’re supposed to know to do that.”

To me these kinds of interactions with power trippy cops are just stupid. What difference does it make if my cell phone is in the same bin as my lap top?

On another flight recently I had a small little tube of toothpaste and some mouthwash — within the TSA legal limits. But… and this was my mistake, — rather than have a small quart sized plastic bag, I had brought with me a gallon sized plastic bag. The result? I had to throw out both my toothpaste and my mouthwash. Now honestly, what in God’s name difference does it make if the bag that holds my toothpaste and mouthwash is a gallon bag or a quart bag? Why does it even have to be in a plastic bag at all? Shhhh… these security secrets are not for you and me to know.

On my way back from Portland weekend before last they made me throw out a corkscrew that was in my shaving kit. They missed it on the way up to Portland but caught it on the way back down home. Of course both going to and from Portland they missed the pocket knife in my shaving kit. And I swear to God I could do far more damage using my hefty Manfrotto tripod as a weapon than I ever could with a corkscrew.

Part of what prompted Cory’s article today is a recent PR propoganda campaign on the part of the British Metropolitan Police to turn in odd looking photographers. I’ve had my fair share of run ins with both real cops and fake cop security guards over my own photography, so it was with a groan that I responded when I first learned of this campaign.

Are they serious? A campaign to turn in odd looking photographers to the police? Heck I’m about as odd as they come sometimes. I even have my own set of images of security cameras that I collect. But, I swear to God I’m no terrorist.

As far as I’m concerned in many ways the terrorists have already won. When people live their lives in such fear that they make up all kinds of crazy rules and regulations and live security the superstitious way that they do today, then the terrorists have been effective at changing our life and getting their point across.

Yeah, yeah, I know. A lot of you are going to call me a prick. You’re going to say that I need to learn to blindly follow the rules that are placed before me. But blind acceptance of rules can be as dangerous as anything. I believe blindly obeying authority is a bad thing. I believe that blind obedience has been as responsible in many regards for even more tragedy than terrorism. The Germans that blindly obeyed the Nazi government. The Mai Lai Massacre in Vietnam.

I tell you, the blind obedience to authority that probably took place in Abu Ghraib and the resulting photographs probably put our country at risk far more than someone refusing to turn their cell phone off on an airplane.

Stanley Milgram showed us a long time ago that we humans are capable of doing all kinds of horrible things when people in authority tell us to.

I don’t have any plans to go to London anytime soon. But if and when I do I will take my photos of security cameras just like I do here in the United States. And if I get hassled by the police over there, I’ll blog about it just like I do over here. Superstition and badly thought out propaganda campaigns only make things worse not better.

I think a better PR campaign for the Metropolitan Police could have been to simply borrow those famous words by FDR and print them up in big bold red letters on a black backround, “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

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36 Comments

  1. Greg says:

    I only want to comment on one thing – the fact that you won’t turn off your cell phone radio. What “evidence” are you looking for? Are you waiting for a plane to crash because someone had their phone on?

    That’s just silly. It’s not inconvenient for you to turn off your phone – you just “don’t want to.”

    Now I’m not saying the plane might crash – frankly I have no idea. But if there’s some chance the radio could affect the nav system, or whatever, why not just turn off the phone? As I said – it costs you nothing, and it’s not an inconvenience.

    As for the rest of what you said, re security and the like, I don’t necessarily disagree. 🙂

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    I only want to comment on one thing – the fact that you won’t turn off your cell phone radio. What “evidence” are you looking for? Are you waiting for a plane to crash because someone had their phone on?

    Greg, what if they told you that you needed to take your hat off in the airplane for safety regulations. Do you think you should have to take your hat off? It’s not a matter of it being an inconvenience or not, it’s simply a matter of living life in such a way where you don’t do things simply because someone tells you to.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The airport security is beyond ridiculous. Last year I went to Hawaii with my wife and my 10 month old daughter. On the way there my daughter was patted down by the idiots doing the security check. We were also forced to dump a few cosmetic items that were “too big” (silly me, you are allowed 4 3-oz size bottles, but not one 12 oz bottle).

    On the way back we forced to dump the water from my daughter’s formula bottles even though the rules at the time stated that water for an infant’s formula was ok.

    I’m typically a laid back guy, but man I wanted to punch someone that day.

  4. Good post. The security theatre that we see at our airports has done nothing to make anybody safer. It’s a waste of money and a waste of everybody’s time.

    Even the TSA’s own rules make no sense. Want to bring that 2″ swiss army knife on board? Sorry sir, we can’t let you do that. But your knitting needles, umbrellas, canes, 7″ screwdrivers, and scissors with pointed blades under 4″ are welcome! Maybe I am just an evil person, but I think I could manage to do some damage with a cane after I duct taped my 7″ screwdriver and knitting needles to it.

    Theatre. It’s all theatre.

  5. PamalaLauren says:

    This is why I don’t fly anymore. Can you imagine the hassle of not only taking a laptop but trying to take a child with a medical illness with liquid medication? It’s not fun.

    Anyhow ignore that stupid ass rule at the gas station and if anyone calls you on it, point them to snopes. If people are too damn ignorant to not know it’s a myth, then they should be embarrassed as much as you can.

    And I believe that some cell phones can interfere with communications so it’s probably best to just turn it off. It’s not hard. The cell phone and electronic thing has been around long before 9/11. So I think it really does have to do with some sort of interference.

  6. Cell phone were thought to contain static electricity which caused some sparks that started fires at gas stations – later tests have shown it’s static electricity from your clothes _ Myth Busters. (Touch your car door while exiting to equalize.)

    The FAA believes that RF interference from phones could disrupt flight equipment. They have run tests and determined their is some effect, but don’t know to what effect it will hurt instruments – which is why the ban is in place. Better safe than sorry is their argument as it would be more likely to cause a problem lower to the ground during take off and landing when the pilots don’t have as much time to respond.
    see: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2005/cell_air2.html

    There is also of course the annoyance of people yelling/talking in their phone. I’ve left restaurants because of this, it’s harder to step outside while at 35,000 feet.
    http://www.intomobile.com/2007/10/08/faa-puts-its-foot-down-on-in-flight-cell-phone-calls-it-aint-gonna-happen.html
    Don’t forget your rights end where mine begin. This is actually a basic tenent of our legal system, which is why you have the freedom of speech, but not to yell fire in a crowded theater.

    Same thing goes for turning cell phones off in certain area’s of hospitals. Doctor’s are funny about malpractice suits and don’t want to risk loosing patients unnecessarily. Hospitals have also taken heed and have created cell phone areas were sensitive medical equipment isn’t so people can communicate with loved ones when emergency, joy, or sorrow needs to be expressed.

    You’ll be hard pressed to explain that need to be expressed while on a plane.

  7. Greg says:

    Greg, what if they told you that you needed to take your hat off in the airplane for safety regulations. Do you think you should have to take your hat off? It’s not a matter of it being an inconvenience or not, it’s simply a matter of living life in such a way where you don’t do things simply because someone tells you to.

    Well, in this case though, there’s a small but reasonable possibility that it really could cause a problem. My iPhone, for example, causes vicious GSM “buzzing” noise when it’s near some of our speakerphones. Who’s to say this same electronic noise couldn’t cause interference with aircraft navigation (or other) systems?

    I know that there is no correlation between me wearing a hat on a plane, and the plane crashing. But I haven’t done enough research to know that there is zero chance of the plane’s electronics having problems when my phone is on. Have you?

    If there is a 0.000001% possibility of it causing problems, and those problems could potentially cause someone to get hurt, well, I’ll turn it off. Because there is no value to me to having it on.

  8. barrettmanor says:

    Heck, I get in and out of my car while I pump gas. I have asthma, and the fumes get to me sometimes. I’ve always been careful about static electricity, so I’m not worried.

    But I am planning my first flight in years for next March. It’s not that I don’t travel; it’s just that I generally drive to wherever I’m going. My work doesn’t require much travel beyond the next state. (I’m in Texas.) However, I’m very worried about this trip. Not about my photo gear, oddly enough. I’m a guest at a media con, and will be taking along a reproduction prop that has lots of wires and blinking lights. I’ll probably just ship it ahead of time. It’s fragile and is SO not going in my checked baggage.

    I’m planning on taking some photo gear, but only enough to go as carry on baggage.

    As for hats on a plane, I don’t think they’re a problem – unless one of the passenger is Oddjob. 😉

  9. airman says:

    TH- There you go again being a rebel. The irony is I’m sure as a good parent you make rules your kids think are stupid and ridiculous, but you expect them to obey. In the grand scheme of things your rules for them do serve a purpose. Teaching your children right from wrong.

    While many rules like the examples you gave may seem stupid (perhaps some are) I know FAA rules were created with your safety and the safety of your family in mind, not some greater government conspiracy against the public or to create a slippery slope of government control of everyone.

    As a private pilot, aeronautical engineer, and father I choose to follow the rules. One or two people on a plane leaving their cell radios on will in most cases not have an adverse effect on avionics/instruments. However, if a large majority of people left them on, I would not want to be on that flight nor be the pilot of it. It also depends on the type of aircraft as to what the risk is. Another reason to turn your phone off is it sucks battery life big time hunting for a network. 🙂

    Of course some of these rules should be updated, but as we know government, no matter who is running it… sucks… thus does not act swiftly.

  10. Greg says:

    Word. I have been waiting patiently till the administration changes. Hopefully at that time we will get out liberties back. I am going to save my worry for that time, because that will show the policy is not just the result of a madman, but a deliberate policy towards fascism.

    Let’s hope these things change when the administration changes.

  11. A couple of things to read up on are the concept of “Security Theater” as well as the fallacy of a binary explosive (or how its damn near impossible to make a decent explosive from two separate liquid components one could conceivably carry on a plane.)

    What always reinforces to me how ridiculous authority has become here in The States is my recent visit to the North Korean/South Korean border in the middle of the Joint Security Area. Before stepping outside at the most heavily guarded and arguably most dangerous international border in the world, I asked the Commanding Officer what it was cool to take pictures of, and he told me “anything you want.” I have pictures of soldiers, loads of CCTV cameras, etc., and no one hassled me even the tiniest bit.

    So now when I’m hassled about taking pictures of an office building, or a bridge. . . I literally laugh out loud.

    Fight the Power, Thomas Hawk!

  12. Greg Furry says:

    I would guess lots of people leave their phones on. I can sometimes tell when they do. I use Bose headphones and just like Greg’s speaker phone they buzz when certain types of phones are nearby and checking email. For this reason I turn off my iPhone.

    I heard somewhere on the internet (this makes it true) that cell phone companies are partially behind the ban. They say it is difficult to track phones an bill accordingly from planes.

    I will say even though I think it is a silly rule I am glad people aren’t aloud to talk on phones while on the plane. Can you imagine how obnoxious it could be sitting next to someone blabbing on their phone the entire flight.

  13. oneharmonic says:

    Agreed on all points. The cell phone rule on planes is just a psychological ‘control’ they impose on passengers. If cell phones signals had any chance of interfering with plane navigation, they would be completely banned from airports. Furthermore, if my $150 Garmin can navigate my car while I’m talking on my cell phone, I don’t see why a $200 million commercial jet would have any problems doing the same.

    If you read past the flashy press releases and start researching the financial and political impacts, you will realize that most of our nation’s actions in the name of homeland security are carefully designed psychological controls.

    Is support for your war on terror waning at home? Solution: urgent press release about terrorist plot to hide explosives in everyday liquids. Let the unsubstantiated rumors fly, let the media spread it like a wildfire, and let the fear sink into the public psyche until they relinquish their freedoms without question.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thomas-long time, no comment. been busy.

    re:airplanes and cellphones, a) I have been told the rule exists because the phone companies don’t want a bunch of people talking while flying through different billing zones and because the flight attendants didn’t want the passengers ignoring them because they were on the phone b) you can find pictures on the internet of Obama talking on a phone while on a plane during his campaign and c) anyone who thinks that “everyone” on a plane is turning off their phone when the door closes is VERY naive. the FAA rules are there for the appeasement of the telecom lobby, not for safety…people on private planes talk on cell phones all the time…and, you aren’t the only one practicing a little civil disobedience.

    re: airport security. I fly a lot. and, Ive seen it all. “putting fingers in the dike while the water flows over the top is all I can say…

    Fight The Power and Keep Up The Good Work.
    (TheJamoker)

  15. dssstrkl says:

    Security theater has a much to do with protecting us from terrorists as DRM has in protecting music from piracy. Its about control in both cases, either corporate control of our entire culture or governmental control over our lives and bodies.

  16. JeffH says:

    Excellent post! Nothing makes my blood boil more than completely ridiculous rules and regulations that anyone with a two digit IQ can see are total B.S. Several previous posters hit the nail on the head. Many of these ‘rules’ are not imposed for their face value, but as a social engineering tools to get us to behave or control us in other ways totally unrelated to the ‘rule’. The TSA rules and how they are so unevenly enforced top my list.

  17. Al says:

    TH,

    Re: the cell phone ban, Mythbusters has covered this pretty well. One 3G frequency causes interference with nav equipment (800mhz I think). The other frequencies are okay as is CDMA. However since its impossible to tell which phones operates on which frequencies easily, they all get banned.

    Re: gas stations, Mythbusters has this one busted. Its static electricity from getting in & out of the car that causes fires not phones.

    Re: security, I agree its getting ridiculous. I sent the London police an email complaining about their policies. However your attitude towards security seems to be buck the system, be a rebel regardless of the cost. How is that any different than following rules blindly?

    If you have issues with the TSA, why don’t you send them your questions at their blog? http://www.tsa.gov/blog/

  18. Jesse says:

    Absolutely terrific post. The rise of security internationally has taken such a dive into mundane, passive fascism that its depressing.

  19. Sam Purtill says:

    Couldn’t agree more, great post. I’ve never turned my cell phone off on a plane, that’s just ridiculous. Unless they can give me evidence as to why a cell phone could be harmful to a flight, there’s no way I’m going to follow them blindly. It’s time we questioned those in power, this has gotten so far out of hand.

  20. I kind of suspect that the London Police thing is due to some misguided attempt to reduce the manpower needed to check photographers shooting potentially sensitive subjects. We’re essentially lazy over here, you know. But it’s stupid nonetheless – any self-respecting terrorist photographer (and there must be some out there somewhere) should take steps to appear as un-odd as possible. Or they should, it must be covered in Terrorist Photography 101.

    And I like the off-turning of cell phones on planes – there are vanishingly few public places where one can avoid the things, after all. Also, it’s huge fun to watch the disembarkees from a business flight frantically powering-up their Blackberrys en masse…

  21. Mark says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with you. It’s also scary to know that the majority of people do, blindly follow the rules. It’s a shame to know that people like you will be the ones that do the suffering so that people like me can take a picture in an airport, or on a public street for that matter. It’s a little cheesy, but I want to thank you for your sacrifice.

  22. Rob says:

    Thomas,
    I enjoy your thought-provoking commentary. The fact that you selectively choose to adhere to a rule is interesting. I understand
    you don’t like having to turn off your phone on the plane. Do you use it in-flight? If not, then it is a silly protest that accomplishes nothing and may in some slight way endanger others. When we purchase an Airline ticket we all know we will be required to go through TSA screenings, turn off our phones in-flight, buckle our seatbelt, keep our seatback upright during takeoffs and landings, etc. These are guidelines we agree to follow. If we don’t like them, we can drive, take a train, ride a donkey, or walk. We all have options. The Airlines are private companies. They can require their customers to do many things on planes since they own them. It is their right. Even forcing people to remove their hats. It might cause them to lose business or go broke, but it is still their prerogative.

    I agree with many who suggest that some of these rules are silly and outdated. Our democracy enables us to change them for the common good. Selective disobedience isn’t the answer.

    Example: I need some insider stock info from you Thomas so I can sell ahead of the market. You can email me the details. Just selectively choose to disobey those SEC rules.
    It will be fine, no one will be harmed. Some of those rules are dated and silly anyway and since I don’t like them I will choose to ignore them.
    As a father I have a responsibility to my children to teach them right from wrong. Also how to change things within the system when needed. Not to disregard rules because “I just dont like it” .
    I’m sure you want the same for your children. This is what make our country great. Our ability to change the law, change the rules, and empower people to make a difference.

  23. Al says:

    Unless they can give me evidence as to why a cell phone could be harmful to a flight, there’s no way I’m going to follow them blindly.

    How is blindly ignoring authority any better than blindly following it?

    They are both ignorant and neither option is better than the other. Educate yourself, then you can make an informed decision.

    Please promote education not rebellion.

  24. Thomas Hawk says:

    I need some insider stock info from you Thomas so I can sell ahead of the market. You can email me the details. Just selectively choose to disobey those SEC rules.
    It will be fine, no one will be harmed. Some of those rules are dated and silly anyway and since I don’t like them I will choose to ignore them.

    Rob, when you break a rule you need to be willing to deal with the consequence. In the case of not turning off my cell phone, I’m willing to deal with the consequence. Based on past experience I don’t think that my consequence will be death.

    Were I to get caught providing you inside stock information there would also be consequences. I would choose not to take that risk, even if I disagreed with the rule.

    I break rules all the time. I go more than 55 miles per hour on the freeway. I jaywalk if there are no cars coming. I take pictures where I’m not allowed. Do you ever jaywalk? Do you ever drive over the speed limit? Do the wheels on your automobile come to a full and complete stop every single time you hit a stop sign or stop light?

    Sometimes I get speeding tickets. I pay those tickets. I’m willing to pay the consequences for my actions.

    You have to understand the difference. *NOBODY* obeys all of the rules 100% of the time. We rationalize that nobody will be hurt if my stop isn’t full and complete and I’m in the middle of nowhere with no cars around for miles at a stop sign. But still, when we get caught we assume the penalty.

    How is blindly ignoring authority any better than blindly following it?

    I don’t blindly ignore all authority. Most authority in fact I adhere to. I just need the reason to make sense to me.

    Especially when the TSA makes silly rules that make me throw away my toothpaste because it’s in a gallon sized plastic bag instead of a quart sized bag they only erode their credibility and make everything they want you to do that much more suspect.

    I agree with many who suggest that some of these rules are silly and outdated. Our democracy enables us to change them for the common good. Selective disobedience isn’t the answer.

    But, our democracy also allows a free press which allows me to both selectively disobey rules and then blog about it having an impact on PR that is perhaps far more powerful than any single protest I might be able to effect myself.

    And I like the off-turning of cell phones on planes – there are vanishingly few public places where one can avoid the things, after all.

    I have no problem with this. I turn my cell phone off lots of places. I turn my cell phone off at the movie theater because I can understand the rule here. I can’t understand it on an airplane, but if they at least came out and cited the need for peace and quiet, I’d have more respect for them than I do now.

    If you have issues with the TSA, why don’t you send them your questions at their blog? http://www.tsa.gov/blog/

    Because I think that my voice would get lost there. I think it has far more impact on my blog here.

    TH- There you go again being a rebel. The irony is I’m sure as a good parent you make rules your kids think are stupid and ridiculous, but you expect them to obey.

    Nope, I want my kids to question my rules as much as anything. If they are not reasonable I need to listen to them and reconsider. I’d hope that they’d obey reasonable and rational rules and question unreasonable and irrational ones.


    That’s just silly. It’s not inconvenient for you to turn off your phone – you just “don’t want to.”

    I prefer to keep my phone on and listen to my iPhone when I’m told to turn it off. My music and downloaded podcasts are more interesting to me than the drone of the jet engine.

  25. Marina says:

    I want to make a comment about not turning off cell phones on planes.

    On Sept 11, the passengers on Flight 93 that went down outside of Pennsylvania, may have saved lives because they were able to use their cell phones and communicate with the outside world to let them know that the plane had been taken over by terrorists and to make sure that it did not approach any major cities.

    It was because of their cell phones (and their willingness to break the rules) that we learned what went on that day and they were able to leave final messages with their loved ones.

    Many flights have phones built into the seats in front, these phones do not use a different technology. Why is it safer to use those over your own? It isn’t, it’s just that they can charge you an arm and leg to use theirs.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I don’t claim to be a know it all, but I am a flight attendant. I’m confident that a cell phone is not going to crash a Boeing. I’ve been known to forget to turn of my phone from time to time. But what it will do is create some hideous feedback in the pilots’ headsets. You know that sound that comes out of your computer speakers or clock radio when you leave your cell phone too close to it? That noise interferes with the communications wiring that runs from the back to the front of the cabin and can prevent the pilots from hearing instructions from ATC. It’ll also drain your battery as it’s constantly searching for signal.

  27. Lloyd England says:

    The reason you take your shoes off at airports… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Colvin_Reid

  28. shvelmur says:

    As I read your post and the comments here, something that I learnt early in my life, comes to mind.

    “It is the power to question, particularly, “why?”, that makes us human”.

  29. Anonymous says:

    There’s a difference between questioning authority, and blindly being a jerk under the cover of legitimately questioning authority.

    You plainly cross the line.

  30. the marquise de sade says:

    Thomas I admire you writing this post. In many ways we are kindred spirits (I hope this doesn’t disgust you!). Sadly people are indoctrinated into society believing that certain things are mandatory in order to integrate, and obedience to authority is one of them. These rules are designed as control mechanisms because most people NEED to be told what to do. Critical thinking is lacking in most people and we who can think pay the price by being expected to blindly obey.

    Sometimes you have to use your own ethical and moral radar and apply it logically and judiciously and brave the consequences. I may be a cantankerous bitch, but I’m a bitch with morals and a very clearcut sense of right and wrong. I always root for the underdog, and unfortunately WE as photographers and citizens are now the underdogs.

    I’ve been fascinated with the work of Milgram over the past several years. It merely proved to me something I already knew intuitively, that most people are driven by fear (immediate visceral fear and fear of negative consequences) rather than logic and a compassionate moral compass. One of the most fascinating elements is the concept that people are so willing to absolve themselves of personal responsibility because “someone else” told them to do something. They don’t even need to BE an authority, they just need to APPEAR to be an authority figure!

    Even though I may feel quite negatively towards someone I can’t imagine ever doing something so heinous. I always put myself in the other persons shoes and see how I would feel, and when I do violate my sense of morality for whatever reason I always feel guilt and remorse afterwards and try to rectify the situation. There are many however who do not.

    The Stanford Prison experiments are another touchstone to focus on in terms of control and fear and how humans interact in certain situations. As far as photography goes, I take mostly street candids and have yet to be accosted by law enforcement – I usually am verbally assaulted at least once each time I venture out. But to me it is worth the risk. London is my favority city and it is sad what has happened there, and is surely to become more prevalent in the US.

    Thanks for writing this. Would like to see you blog on some of the other abuses occuring in our country.

  31. Shawn Oster says:

    You know, I wear a size 12 shoe and since I have flat feet I like cushy soles, which are usually pretty thick like on my John Fluevog’s. I could easily hollow out the bottoms and put a hunting knife in there. Just saying.

    Everything else I agree with, I’m pretty sure the freaking 1/8 static electricity spark that I almost always produce at gas stations when I touch my car could cause a lot more damage than my cell phone.

    That said security shouldn’t shoulder all the blame, a lot of it rests squarely on the tax-paying public. Whenever something goes horribly wrong the public wants to know *how* the security *let* this horrible thing happen, someone must *pay* for it. In hindsight it’s always obvious that the person with a classic shaving straight razor shouldn’t have been let on board or that those two chemicals could create a bomb. Usually someone complaining about the long security line is the exact same person to write an op-ed piece about the how blind security was for not noticing the *obviously* suspicious looking person.

    As much as I wish it was otherwise the issue isn’t nearly as neatly black & white as you make it out to be.

  32. Alain says:

    A few years ago I got “caught” with a wrench in my laptop bag at San Francisco international. I didn’t even know it was in my bag and security at Heathrow on the way out didn’t spot it.

    I was told it was illegal to carry a wrench and at the risk of making things worse asked why. “Because you could take parts of the plane apart sir”. Amazing, as much as I hate flying I’ve never once felt compelled to take parts of a the plane off. Would a terrorist really do that?

  33. Anonymous says:

    TH – Great post. Your tone is definitely about the blind following of the general public, which is what gets us in trouble in the first place. We really need to question authority, and keep check on the authority that keeps check on us. If everyone were more educated about the threats and dangers, we would be better equipped to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. Instead, we are instructed in abstract manners to a very real threat.

    I really don’t like the attacks some people are making in their comments. Like the one about parents and rules — so are you saying the government is all grown-up and we, the general public, are simply children? Unfortunately, it is the world we live in; the general public is too passive about our freedoms.

  34. Carl says:

    A provocative post. No question that many (or most) people leave their phones on — the message notices start the second you hit the ground. And since it doesn’t seem to have brought down a plane yet, maybe there’s nothing to the concern. But I personally wouldn’t want to find out differently. Since my phone sends out interference that can make even unplugged speakerphones buzz, there’s some serious interference going out of some of these units.

    I KNOW my shampoo bottle isn’t filled with picric acid, so yes I get frustrated at the nonsense attendant to these ridiculous restrictions. But with cellphones, enough is not known that I feel it’s not an unreasonable restriction.

    Also, who are you people who have to be on the phone every damn minute? I am really kinda hoping that someday they DO show health effects from cell phones, because then it will be safe to ride my bike on the road again without having to worry about people who think they’re piloting two-ton phone booths.

  35. TranceMist says:

    Excellent post.

    Most of this “security” bullshit, including the “security threat level” is intended to keep everyone paranoid so more money can go to all of the defense contractors and everyone else who profits from war and fear.

    I never turn my phone off either, I just put it on vibrate.

  36. Sam K. says:

    Wikipedia has a pretty interesting entry on the topic of cell phones on airplanes. Particularly interesting to me was the section addressing the “physics” behind cell phone/tower interaction (aka channel reuse).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phones_on_aircraft

    As far as the navigation system interference, I agree that it seems unlikely that my $50 phone could take down a billion dollar aircraft. But whereas I agree that it might not be reasonable to think that one phone could cause a problem, I wonder as to the effect of 220 phones crammed into roughly 250 cubic meters. I will be the first to admit that I don’t have anything *close* to the right training/knowledge to figure this one out, so I leave it to the people who get paid to do this sort of stuff.

    One line of note in the wikipedia article comes in the “Electromagnetic Interference” section and says, essentially, that a major reason for the ban is that the FAA/FCC don’t want to pay for the testing to figure it out.

    And you have to feel for the FAA (at least a little), because much like the FDA, these people get absolutely no credit for the things that go right on their watch and 100% of the blame for the things that go wrong. Add to that the fact that the blame typically comes hot on the heels of unimaginable horrors and usually involves Congressional hearings.

    The Wikipedia article also addresses the competition from in-flight telephone services as well as social considerations, so all in all it appears fairly balanced, at least to me.

    None of this is by way of saying that its right or wrong to leave your phone on during a flight. Its only to say that there are a few different explanations of the reasoning behind the ban. Whether or not one believes them is one’s own choice, but they are there nonetheless.

    My apologies for coming late to the conversation.