[FoRK] Disruptions: Fliers Must Turn Off Devices, but It's Not Clear Why

Gary Stock gstock at nexcerpt.com
Tue Dec 6 09:22:08 PST 2011

On 12/6/11 11:36 AM, Sean Conner wrote:
> The issue not be with avionic interference, but actual cellular 
> networkissues. 
Yes.  Thank you.  While I despair of security theater generally, other 
legitimate issues are being ignored during the pile-on drubbing of the 
phones-off policy.

At normal commercial cruising altitudes, no cell phone gets a signal.  
(Yes, I've verified it.  Between Detroit and Baltimore.  Multiple 
times.  So arrest me. ;-)

What are people whining about?  The fact that they might be unable to 
use a device in a venue where -- by ~design~ -- it ~will~ not work?

(Even if cell towers were four or five miles tall, ~most~ long flights 
also spend ~most~ of their time over vast expanses of land that have 
little or no coverage even on the ~ground~.)

This thread has already mentioned the possibility of intentional 
electronic exploit (or a takeover of some sort, even of communications) 
from within the plane, while in midair.  Acknowledging that terrorists 
-- by definition -- will ignore rules and laws, which flight would you 
rather take:

1) with 100+ cellphones, and similar devices obviously in use?

2) with only a terrorist's electronic device obviously in use?

OK, you say, what if they put it in cargo, or luggage -- or hide it 
under a blanket?

OK, let's presume they do.  Presume we suspect a credible threat may 
exist of such a device eventually (or at a particular time or location) 
being deployed on a commercial flight, or in its immediate environment.

Thinking as we did at NSA:  our challenge is to recognize, understand, 
and defeat such a device.  We have only some notion of what forms it may 
take, or frequencies it may use.

Q:  What would be our first priority?

A:  Isolate and rule out effects from all other devices.

Q:  What is the easiest way to do that?

A:  Shut as many such devices as possible off.

Q:  How can we do that without alerting terrorists to our effort?

A:  Shut as many such devices as possible off ~ALL~ the time.

Crude But Effective(tm).

I'd submit that most of the research validating why the ban ~may~ be 
valid is highly classified -- just like most of the work, likely ongoing 
today, that will eventually make the ban unnecessary.


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