Editorial: The iPod Bomb? Don’t Panic | iLounge Article

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Editorial: The iPod Bomb? Don’t Panic

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Thursday, August 10, 2006
Articles Categories: Editorials

When the news wires first published reports of today’s foiled transcontinental airline terrorist attack, we immediately noticed something unusual: in addition to banning passengers from carrying on liquids that were potentially capable of serving as explosives, British and U.S. authorities were said to be imposing carry-on bans for iPods - by name - as well as cell phones and notebook computers. Further reports from Bloomberg, CNN, and Sky News have confirmed the bans this morning, with CNN quoting a “senior Congressional source” as saying that the plotters “may have planned to use an MP3 player or a cell phone to trigger the explosives,” while a main page headline stated that cannisters of liquid would have been detonated “with iPod or cell phone.” The intended result was the destruction of between three and ten planes mid-flight, in waves of several planes at once, with total casualties in the thousands.

iPod-detonated plane bombings? Is this the stuff of spy novels and conspiracy theories, or the real thing? The full details will surely emerge over the coming weeks and months, and given the iPod’s popularity, they may not be pretty: reports have noted that it’s possible to use something as small as an electronic key fob to trigger a detonation, so it’s not hard to imagine someone hollowing out an iPod for such nefarious purposes. Since prior terrorist attacks have relied on actual cell phones to act as triggers, it’s unclear whether attackers could use a fully working iPod to this end, or whether authorities are broadly concerned by anything with an inconspicuous plastic shell. The iPod may have been named, but it also may have been falsely accused.

What does this mean for iPod-carrying travellers today? In the United Kingdom, the answer is unfortunate: because of a very wide-reaching, ultra-cautious ban, you’ll need to put your music - and just about everything else you’d carry - in your checked luggage. Similarly, based on measures announced by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, U.S.-based passengers departing from Boston’s Logan International Airport will not be able to carry iPods, cell phones, or notebook computers on board planes. Plan on checking them with your other luggage, and carry books instead. It remains to be seen whether this ban will spread to other U.S. airports as well.

For obvious reasons, we hope that it doesn’t. Just as with the FAA’s regulations that prohibit the use of certain portable electronic devices during plane takeoffs and landings, we think that there’s an increasing need for clarity - and science - in bans that may apply to iPods. If there are actual threats, we fully support a government’s decision to prudently limit them in the name of public safety. If hollowed-out iPods or other portable devices are the concern, airports can treat them like laptops, and require them to be turned on and working at current security checkpoints. If working devices are the threat, their potentially dangerous characteristics should be isolated so that safer versions can be developed and sold, perhaps under a TSA or FAA certification or standards program, as with recently released locks. And if there’s no way to isolate the threats from such devices, it’s time to equip airplanes with suitable, no-cost replacements. In this day and age, people can’t be expected to weather transcontinental flights without some form of electronic entertainment; books and conversations are great for some people, but not everyone.

On the other hand, iPods may pose comparatively little or no threat to airliners - as detonators, or during takeoffs and landings. This seems possible, both because there hasn’t yet been a reported incident of an iPod-related airline problem, and also given the wide variety of other popular devices such as computers, laptops, and cell phones that are more potentially threatening. If this is the case, flight regulating agencies and companies such as Apple should be working now to dispell the myths surrounding in-flight iPod safety. Like our readers, iLounge’s editors frequently travel with and depend upon iPods for travel entertainment, and we shudder at the thought of losing the ability to listen to or watch our media collections on planes. As a British resident quoted by the U.K.‘s Sky News explained after learning about today’s ban, she was comfortable with airline safety and okay with the delays, but “[e]ight hours without an iPod, that’s the most inconvenient thing.” In such uncertain times, distractions are especially valuable, so it would be great to know for sure what is and isn’t safe to do in the skies.

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Comments

1

Hey, books pose no threat, and they’re not letting anyone take books on planes in the UK today…

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on August 10, 2006 at 12:30 PM (PDT)

2

If people are willing to swallow condoms filled with heroin ... anything is possible - what’s next? gassing us and placing us sedated in bomb proof tubes - to be awaken when we get there?

Posted by jbelkin on August 10, 2006 at 1:34 PM (PDT)

3

Check out “Eight Ways To Kill Someone With An iPod Nano, According to An Ex-Marine” (http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2006/6/23fleming.html). Even if they’re not exactly explosive, they could be potentially dangerous. Not that I would ever want to be on a plane or train or bus or anywhere else for more than 15 minutes w/o an iPod, but I can understand (slightly) where the gov’t is comming from. I really do hope that there is a better solution. I think the laptop-style solution sounds right when considering hollowed-out iPods.

Posted by stephencolon on August 10, 2006 at 3:03 PM (PDT)

4

Apparently the liquid explosive in question does not need an electrical source to set it off - once the component parts are mixed just banging the container against a surface will set it off….

Posted by Bob Levens in UK on August 10, 2006 at 4:12 PM (PDT)

5

So if you can’t carry your ipod and laptop on the plane, then you have to put them in your checked luggage. And the last time I flew, you weren’t allowed to lock your luggage. So, now there’s no way to protect your stuff against theft.

Posted by tinac391 in Seattle on August 10, 2006 at 5:51 PM (PDT)

6

Air travelers’ should be concentrating on getting to their best physical shape as soon we’ll all be traveling in the buff with all of our orifices splayed wide-open to ensure we’ve not hidden anything.

Posted by FahrenheiPod 451 on August 10, 2006 at 6:07 PM (PDT)

7

tinac, go to any office depot and buy yourself a TSA approved combination lock. samsonite sells two for about ten bucks.

Posted by mrmojorisingi on August 10, 2006 at 6:26 PM (PDT)

8

There’s an article on CNN where security experts are saying anything with a battery should be banned.  It goes beyond ridiculous - what about my car keys?  What happens when someone figures out how to make a bomb out of fabric?  We’ll all have to fly in government issued orange jumpsuits I guess.

Posted by speener on August 10, 2006 at 7:58 PM (PDT)

9

Now this is just getting stupid.  There is no way to prevent every threat possible.  NO WAY.  The best way to minimize the threats is common sense.  If you’re sitting next to someone who’s hooking their iPod up to their water bottle, alert someone or ask them what they’re doing.  If the guy next to you is trying to light his shoes on fire, call attention to it. 
The only way for a flight to be 100% guaranteed safe is for NOBODY TO BE ON IT.  We can send our robot avatars out into the world for us, while we stay at home.
Soon, the only way we’ll be allowed to fly is handcuffed & chained to the seat…

Posted by schmegs on August 10, 2006 at 11:40 PM (PDT)

10

speener,
“electrical key fobs” is on the list of items banned from your hand luggage (if you can call a small clear plastic bag “hand luggage”) flying from UK airports.

schmegs,
“Soon, the only way we’ll be allowed to fly is handcuffed & chained to the seat…”
...works for the Justice Prisoner Alien Transportation System
smile

Posted by Bob Levens in UK on August 11, 2006 at 1:46 AM (PDT)

11

Schmegs is right: this is out of control. It is impossible to keep everyone safe from everything. How about a reasonable and sane approach to this. If they take away my iPod the terrorists have won!

Posted by Ol'poder in Louisville on August 11, 2006 at 6:34 AM (PDT)

12

mrmojorisingi, Thanks for the tip about the TSA lock. That is something new that wasn’t available the last time I flew. Good to know about.

Posted by tinac391 in Seattle on August 11, 2006 at 9:08 AM (PDT)

13

Most of you guys are lucky!  Most, I think, take just domestic flights, or flights between the USA and Europe.  For a few hours (3-5 hrs) flight I can live without the bottle of water (afterall, I can just as the attendent for some water) or my iPod. 

But, try doing that with a 20+hr flight to Asia! It definitely is harder to be without my iPod then (as I can only look at the movies so many times lol). smile

I think Ol’podder and Schmegs are right.  If I am the security officials, I would be more worried about “what are those food service guys wheeling into the plane?  What are those septic tank guys pumping in: clean replacement blue water, or some other chemical that happens to look blue?”

I don’t say this to be funny.  Most of those workers, who access never-seen places of the plane, are not employees of the airlines or airport; they are workers for contracted companies (who knows how well those companies screen new workers who will pump out the sh!t on the planes!).

I just feel security should be more focused on the people who have more access to hidden places on the plane, and who are putting things into the plane, than taking an unopened bottle of Aquafina from the little Chinese girl. (and yup, that happened to me yesterday)

Posted by Jing in USA/Singapore on August 11, 2006 at 9:12 AM (PDT)

14

Schmegs may be on to something….I have been on flights where some passengers NEED to be handcuffed and chained to their seats….

Perhaps they didn’t realy single out IPODs as such, but the name IPOD is becoming the generic name to the mass public for MP3 players as Xerox or Kleenex is to their product types.

Jing I agree with you completely.  Having dating someone who worked on one of those ground crews I have heard stories that made me want to quit flying.  I can easily imagine how potentially dangerous the lack of security on the ground might be.

And as far as banning books….paper can be soaked in explosive chemicals, but so can clothing or anything absorbent.  Security on flights is a very risky and involved business.  How far do we go?  How can we be sure of the security level?  How far do we trust the airlines/TSA/the ground crews/fellow passengers?  What all can we check for and what is a “reasonable” level of security?

Posted by SouthernGothic on August 11, 2006 at 9:29 AM (PDT)

15

Anyone who bought an iPod would never want to see it blown up! I not so sure about another mp3 player.

Posted by Stourque on August 11, 2006 at 11:52 AM (PDT)

16

Heh - TSA locks - mine got nicked….

Jing - when I fly to LA or SF it’s 11 hours.
And with a flight next year to Singapore I hope they have sorted something out!!!

Posted by Bob Levens in UK on August 11, 2006 at 1:55 PM (PDT)

17

Everytime stuff like this comes up, I get highly pissed at those cowards that did what they did on 9/11.  For the rest of my life, I have to be inconvenienced because some idiotic extremist. 

At the same time, we need folks that can actually think through things without doing these generic blanket bans.  I agree with the “on and working” idea for all electronic devices.  My only exception is cell phones.  Those should have to be in the stowed baggage, not only for safety reasons, but for sanity as well.  There is nothing more annoying than the sound of 100-200 beeps from people turning on their cell phones when deplaning!

Posted by Travis Q on August 12, 2006 at 1:33 PM (PDT)

18

TSA locks…an interesting concept, but that assumes the TSA agent doing the searching is honest, and that the lock really can keep others out after TSA is done rummaging through your stuff (and besides remembering to actually lock your suitcase back up, considering the mounds and mounds of luggage these poor public servants have to go through).

Posted by flatline response on August 12, 2006 at 9:58 PM (PDT)

19

Turning on the iPod/cell phone/PSP/DS…they do that already as a matter of course, don’t they? At least they have with me at our local airport.

I hear each of you bemoaning such Draconian measures, and I’m inclined to agree with you…but you know, we’re not the only ones on the plane. A LOT of people don’t use iPods or any sort of media device on flights. I’d guess more than a few wouldn’t mind it at all if all such devices were confiscated before take-off, if only for their own collective piece of mind.

Posted by flatline response on August 12, 2006 at 10:09 PM (PDT)

20

“The decision to downgrade the UK terrorism threat level from “critical” to “severe” means passengers can now carry one item of cabin baggage through security search points at most UK airports. However, the new measures will not be brought in at Heathrow and Gatwick, run by BAA, until 0430 on Tuesday.”

For revised restrictions check
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4789593.stm

Posted by Bob Levens in UK on August 14, 2006 at 11:20 AM (PDT)

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