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Laser Painting Could Lead to 25-Year Prison Term 1615

Posted by timothy
from the too-bright-therefore-not-so-bright dept.
lowy writes "According to this USA Today article, a New Jersey man was charged under federal anti-terrorism laws with shining a laser beam at a jet flying over his home. The Feds arrested him after he flashed a police helicopter searching for the source of the beam. He now faces up to 25 years in prison under Patriot Act charges." It seems to be happening around the country, as our earlier post makes clear.
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Laser Painting Could Lead to 25-Year Prison Term

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  • well.. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:05PM (#11267186)
    Why was he doing this in the first place? If he had malicious intent then he deserves to go to jail but if he was just screwing around I think a small fine and some community service is in order
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by word munger (550251) <dsmunger@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:06PM (#11267210) Homepage Journal
    Well, trying to kill someone generally nets you less than that. I assume if you actually succeeded you'd get a bit more than 25 years.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 2MuchC0ffeeMan (201987) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:07PM (#11267237) Homepage
    Considering how windshields on airplanes are on the top of the plane, shining lasers at them probably won't blind them, and they won't crash.

    But it's the same as pointing a laser pointer at a itchy trigger finger cop.

    The guy shouldn't get 25 years, he obviously isn't a terrorist. But i'm now unpatriotic for thinking so.
  • A bit harsh, but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by beforewisdom (729725) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:09PM (#11267268)
    25 years is a bit harsh, but OTOH I don't want people distracting aircraft pilots as the article I read said this guy did.

    Fine the hell out of him and give him a year in jail
  • Re:25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ConceptJunkie (24823) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:09PM (#11267275) Homepage Journal
    Seems to me you have to try pretty hard to laser an airplane cockpit from the ground. I find it hard to believe he wasn't trying to do exactly that. 25 years might be harsh, but stupidity is expensive. You should avoid it.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fnkmaster (89084) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:09PM (#11267281)
    There are two possibilities. One is that there was intent to blind pilots and cause aircraft to crash, in which case 25 years sounds pretty light to me. Life imprisonment would be appropriate for attempted, premeditated mass murder.

    The other possibility is that it was a stupid, stupid person who wasn't really thinking about the consequences of what they were doing at the time and there was no premeditated intent to cause a plane to crash. If that is the case, I think 25 years is a bit extreme.

    In any case, hopefully a jury will figure out what the case was - as long as it doesn't go before a secret court with hearings closed to the public, then I'm happy.
  • by garcia (6573) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:10PM (#11267287) Homepage
    I would have copy/pasted from the USA Today article but at the time I read it the link was unavailable on the main page so from this [freep.com] article at the Detroit Free Press:

    On Friday, a helicopter carrying Port Authority detectives was hit by a laser beam as its crew surveyed the area to try to pinpoint the origin of the first beam.

    I just love the wording they chose to describe the stupidity... "hit by a laser beam". They make it seem like the dude was firing a laser gun at them and harming the helicopter. Ugh. Yeah, pointing a laser pointer at a flying aircraft is dumb and it's unnecessary but to attempt to make it sound like some physical damage could have been done by the laser is just sensationalism.
  • by Matt - Duke '05 (321176) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:10PM (#11267299)
    I think it is high-time that the "Your Rights Online" section be renamed to "Paranoid Rantings About The Eeeevilness Of Organized Government By Slashdot's Editors." Although michael is almost always the culprit behind such stories, I guess timothy is now just as guilty.

    It is amazing how often the stories in this section have little, if anything, to do with rights "online." What's even more interesting is how incredibly infrequently the alleged "rights" being violated in these stories are ever anything of the sort - namely "rights."

    If you truly believe that you have some sort of God-given/Constitutionally-mandated right to shine a high-powered laser into the cockpit of a 747, then you truly need a reality check.
  • Is he a terrorist? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cyberguyd (50420) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:11PM (#11267309)
    I think the government has gone too far with this terrorism thing. I think that in order to be charged under the Patriot Act, the intent of committing terrorism should be proven. This does not mean that I don't think he should be punished for what he did, but this law is so broad that a bank robber could be charged under the Patriot Act for terrorizing the customers and employees. Terrorism is performed on mass scale, not on handfull of people.
  • My rights online? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot&keirstead,org> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:11PM (#11267323) Homepage
    And this relate sto my rights online how?

    Was this guy using a laptop while pointing a laser at the plane, or what?

    Aside from that - I could care less what this guy gets. Even if I agree with the posters claiming that the pilot could obviously not see the laser - anyone who is flashing a laser pointer off at a POLICE HELICOPTER these days is obviously a complete idiot/jackass. To me this is natural selection in action.

  • by redwoodtree (136298) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:12PM (#11267331)
    We're basically now arresting and locking up stupid people. Maybe this is a good trend, but honestly, before "terrorism" this guy would just get a slap on the wrist.

    Now, because we're at war a simple act of (admitedly dangerous) stupidity will get you facing the patriot act.

    Hmm.. maybe this isn't such a bad thing. I wonder if they can arrest the guy who weaves down the freeway lane-hopping and tail gaiting under the patriot act too, he treathens my life every day.
  • by DigitalSorceress (156609) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:12PM (#11267332)

    This says it all::

    Justice Department officials said they do not suspect terrorism in any of the cases, but said Banach's arrest shows how seriously they take the matter.

    Back on 9/11, one of my biggest fears was not that terrorists would somehow feel that I was worth picking out of a crowd, but that my government would joyously tear up what remained of the Bill of Rights in an overzealous, misguided attempt to appear to be "doin' sumthin' about terrorism".

    I am very sad to see myself proved right.. almost on a daily basis.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by douthitb (714709) <bcwood@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:13PM (#11267343) Homepage
    Did you see what his excuse for pointing the laser in the cockpit was? He said he was looking at stars with his daughter, and it "accidentally" pointed into an airplane's cockpit.

    Am I missing something here? Can someone please explain to me how to use a laser pointer to look at stars?
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sgant (178166) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:14PM (#11267373) Homepage Journal
    OK, I can see giving him more time. He was trying to do something that could have had a very dangerous outcome if he succeeded.

    But they're talking now about outlawing lasers to the general public?!?! Huh? Because they can be used for this?

    OK, outlaw them. They have the slight chance of maybe blinding one of the pilots on approach. (again, another Tom Clancy scenario in a book about using an ultra bright light to bring down an approaching airliner...just like in the same book a 747 pilot crashed his plane into the Capital building in Washington...but I digress......)

    But if they could do this, why not outlaw all guns and rifles in the US! I mean, couldn't THESE be used on approaching and departing airliners? A 460 Weatherby Magnum rifle could do some serious damage...maybe bust open a fuel tank if aimed with any degree of accuracy. I mean, if you're going to outlaw a 10 dollar laser pointer, shouldn't a high-powered rifle be in the same boat?

    But no no...can't do that can we! We have the NRA...there is no National Laser Association lobby group in Washington looking out for our right to keep and bear lasers!

    (is it bear or bare...I can never remember)
  • by Jerf (17166) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:16PM (#11267403) Journal
    Something doesn't add up, and I don't know what.

    All the incidents can't be like this, some guy playing with his kid. Are they copycat? Did one incident get reported first? Or was there really a rash of people shining lasers at planes more or less simultaneously? Quite a coincidence, that.

    I don't quite understand what's going on here.

    I do know this, though: This is serious, and the penalty sounds about right to me. 25 years for shining a laser at someone may sound stiff, but how about 25 years for reasonably endangering the lives of about a hundred people? The government is right here, it is no joke when there are people in that plane.

    Can you imagine shining your laser at a landing plane and watching it crash? I have a few mottos in life, and one of them is "Never engage in an endeavor where the worst case scenario is complete success"; you just know that's when life will choose to deal you the Royal Flush. I'd say this qualifies. (The canonical example, of course, is Russian Roulette. Do you really want to "win"?) I couldn't live with myself after that.
  • by mOoZik (698544) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:16PM (#11267409) Homepage
    They say the plane was about 10,000 feet up and the laser came from 15 miles away. It doesn't take a genius to see that:

    1) Laser pointers over 15 miles away - or even nearly 2 miles away - lose a lot of their energy and are no brighter than dim LED bulbs at those distances.
    2) It is virtually impossible to track a laser on a cockpit from 15 miles way, or even from 2 miles away.

    So what's going on?

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harrkev (623093) <kfmsd@harr[ ]onfamily.org ['els' in gap]> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:17PM (#11267423) Homepage
    Please read this very informative article [equipped.org] entitled "Lasers Aimed At Airliners: Overreaction?"

    My only complaint with this article is that the author does not realize that $500 or so will buy you a VERY powerful laser that is easily capable of damaging the eyes in a heartbeat. But otherwise, a good read.

    I am getting very discouraged at the sheer amount of paranoia in our society. Everybody is overreacting to everything and is afraid of their own shadow. My wife is afraid for me to even pull out my Leatherman in public, because she is afraid that other people might thing that I might be a terrorist or some other type of bad guy. Riiiight. Like I could really kill 100 people in a mall with only a 2-1/2 inch blade and a pair of pliers. Except for special circumstances (like on an airplane), you cannot kill 100 people with a pocket knife unless your name is Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris, in which case you don't even need the knife.

    Remember: if you walk around in fear, then the terrorists have already won. Think long and hard about where the term "terrorist" came from. I refuse to give them the satisfaction of being afraid.
  • Its impossible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lokni (531043) <reali100&chapman,edu> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:18PM (#11267440)
    While it is definitely possible to do it to a helicopter, but has anybody realized that it would be nigh near IMPOSSIBLE to shine a laser pointer into the cockpit of an airliner, particularly into the eyes of the pilot? Look at how far back in the cockpit the pilot sits as well as the angle from his head over the instrument dash and into space. An airliner's cockpit windows are designed for visibility of the sky around the plane, not the ground. While this dumbass deservers a prison term, it is 100% asinine to use terrorism laws here to impose 25 years.
  • Serious business (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tooley (63773) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:21PM (#11267506)
    Just wanted to point out that pilots of commercial aircraft are granted a public trust. That trust is granted after they have proved themselves capable of piloting the aircraft well, proved themselves to be of good character. Our government then licenses them to command the plane -- and with it the lives of sometimes hundreds of passengers. Further, the passengers each put their lives in the hands of the pilots.

    Pointing a laser and blinding a pilot on final approach is the same as having broken into the cockpit and putting your hands over his or her eyes. You should and would be right to be charged with as many counts of attempted murder as there are people on the plane.

    25 years seems like a light sentence for that charge, to me. So he's getting quite a deal.

    But, to use the ignorant line "I didn't know" betrays the mind that each of us has in our heads. We have the ability to think through our actions, and we have the responsibility to each other -- as a society -- to do so.

    Intent has nothing to do with responsibility for actions. Perhaps intent can change the severity of the sentence, but should never invalidate the crime and the perpetrator's responsibility.

    If we want to live in a society, peacefully, and get along with each other, it is incumbent on all of us to take responsibility for our own actions, and to demand that our fellow citizens do no less.

    -tooley-
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:22PM (#11267525)
    Up to 25 years means nothing. Federal laws are incredibly broad so vastly different conduct is covered under the same law, with the same theoretical maximum. I was charged with a crime for which I could receive "up to 25 years" and got 1 year probation.

    Nothing to see here, move along...
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MoonBuggy (611105) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:22PM (#11267535) Journal
    As I see it, the time isn't the issue here. The fact is that this man is not a terrorist and should not be punished under terror laws - argue for him getting more or less time to your heart's content, but do not twist the course of fair and just use of the legal system. If these laws exist for terrorism cases, use them in terrorism cases. If the rest of the existing laws are inadequate, change them, don't use that fact as an excuse to get unpopular proposals into general use through the back door with false assurances that they will only be used in very specific circumstances.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eyeball (17206) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:24PM (#11267567) Journal
    But they're talking now about outlawing lasers to the general public?!?! Huh? Because they can be used for this?

    Some days I think it would be a lot easier for the govenment to just tell us what we can do. "Ok, all you're allowed to do is go to work, watch TV and shop. Nothing else."
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tassach (137772) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:26PM (#11267613)
    This case shows exactly why the USA-PATRIOT act is such a bad idea. ANYTHING the powers-that-be don't like can be labelled "terrorism" and thereby trump ordinary due process and Constitutional protections.

    This is not saying that this sort of behavior shouldn't be punished, what it is saying is that it should be done under existing laws. There's no reason to charge someone with "terrorism" when their conduct is more accurately described as "reckless endangerment", "malicious mischeif", or "interfering with an aircrew".

  • by Millennium (2451) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:27PM (#11267621) Homepage
    Shining a laser in someone's eyes is assault, plain and simple. I don't know if I'd call it terrorism, but I don't find criminal charges to be out of order.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LurkerXXX (667952) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:29PM (#11267663)
    Ok, the guy points a laser at an aircraft. It's been over the news lately that someone tried to 'take down planes' by blinding the pilots with a laser in sevaral different cities. Stupid.

    Now it's on the local news that someone has been trying to do it. The FBI is investigating.

    The next night he's out and tries to do the same thing to a helicopter. He's either deliberately trying to do harm to them, or so stupid he should never been allowed to reproduce. Either way, locking him up should be safer for the general public.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by nlindstrom (244357) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:29PM (#11267676)
    It's a free country.
    You mispelled "Was".
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nijika (525558) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:30PM (#11267691) Homepage Journal
    From the article:

    The jet, a chartered Cessna Citation, was coming in for a landing last Wednesday with six people aboard when a green light beam struck the windshield three times at about 3,000 feet, according to court documents. The flash temporarily blinded both the pilot and co-pilot, but they were later able to land the plane safely, authorities said.
    ...
    Then, on Friday, a helicopter carrying Port Authority detectives was hit by a laser beam as its crew surveyed the area to try to pinpoint the origin of the original beam.

    Oopsie daisy!

    kfg: Imagine trying to "bring down" a car with a laser pointer. I'll be you couldn't do it in a Godzillion years.

    I imagine it would be much easier than you imagine. A sustained laser at a drivers eyes would make them swerve if not stop dead on the road. A pilot of a passenger plane does not have that luxury.

    The guy that did this is a 38 year old asshole, not an innocently playing child, and I'm glad he's going away. If he didn't know this was going to lead to trouble he's also one of the dumbest men in the U.S.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by RailGunner (554645) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:31PM (#11267702) Journal
    Except for the fact that he's an American citizen, while the savages locked away at Gitmo are not.

    The US Constitution applies to US Citizens ONLY. Foreign nationals are granted NO constitutional protections, unless they become US Citizens.

    Illegal combatants are designated as such because they do not wear military uniforms, instead they try to blend in with the population, setting off car bombs and trying to kill as many people as possible. If the terrorists want to be treated as POW's under Geneva, then fine - just as soon as they start identifying themselves with some form of uniform or mark (which would have the added benefit of making them easier to find and kill.)

    Also, it's spelled "indefinitely".

  • by Spl0it (541008) <spl0it@msn.com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:34PM (#11267744) Homepage
    I always find it interesting how if driving through traffic and both lanes are going slow as crap, and you proceed to pass a few people (with blinker on, checking blind spots, etc... ) and (obviously not in heavy traffic where you can't get anywhere anyways) that your weaving and risking peoples lives. Driving the speeed limit or 5-10km over, and making safe lane changes IS not threatening anyones life. The people who consistantly drive 20-30km under the speed limit in good weather are the ones who can cause deadly accidents. Accidents are up every year for senior citizens and most of them are caused by them being soo scared, and going so slow... ugh..
  • by Lord Kano (13027) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:34PM (#11267749) Homepage Journal
    This asshole pointed a commercial laser at an airliner. He temporarily blinded the captain and copilot while they were trying to land. When the police sent a helicopter to find the source of the laser, this idiot pointed his laser at the police helicopter. He lied to the FBI and tried to pass the blame on to his child.

    This isn't some teenager doing something stupid. This is a 38 year old man who should know better.

    25 years and a half million dollar fine does sound pretty harsh to me, but if he had caused that plane to crash it wouldn't seem nearly harsh enough.

    Fuck this guy.

    Move along, nothing to care about here.

    LK
  • by TheLittleJetson (669035) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:36PM (#11267783)
    Immagine you just bought a $700 laser pointer. You're amazed that you can see a reflection from stuff really far away. Hey look, I can even shine it on that plane overhead!

    Really, I bet that's the extent of it. This whole "THEY ARE CRASHING PLANES WITH THEIR LASER GUN" is just more post-911 hysteria. 25 years is a long time. This is an equivalent penalty to MURDER, and this is far from it. I think a stiff fine would be enough to stop folks from doing this.

    More importantly, this is just one more case where the PATRIOT act, which gives some constitutionally-questionable powers to law enforcement, for the specific purpose of apprehending terrorists, has been used on someone who isn't a terrorist.

    Funny thing is, I saw this on the news like 2 days after I saw a link to one of those uber-laser-pointers that burns holes in plastic cups (I believe I was linked from /.) News reporters were like "this is sophisticated laser tracking" and my parents were like "I wonder if it's terrorists?" I said "no, it's probably some guy with one of these laser pointers I just saw on the web, but if they catch him, he'll be prosecuted as a terrorist." Sucks being right all the time about this kind of stuff...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:37PM (#11267796)

    What rights have been violated here? He's been arrested and charged in exactly the same way as would have happened on 9/10/01. Nothing has changed. He'll face a trial of his peers just like anyone else.

    Idiots who run around like nuts screaming about stolen rights when nothing is wrong just distract attention away from REAL civil rights violations.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bmongar (230600) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:39PM (#11267837)
    Where in the constitution does it say that the constitution applies to us citizens only?
  • by Migraineman (632203) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:41PM (#11267847)
    The kicker in this case is two-fold: a) he did it more than once; b) he knew the laser he was using could cause eye damage. So this isn't a case of Joe Sixpack getting a laser-pointer from his girlfriend, ripping the package open and heading outside while hollerin' "Hey y'all, watch this!" Nope, Doofus here pointed his fiber-optic test equipment (which he warned the attorneys about being dangerous) at more than one aircraft on more than one occasion. He can try to plead with the judge that he didn't know there would be any people on the aircraft, or that he didn't think that there would be danger beyond X distance from the source, but I don't think anyone is going to fall for it. There's no doubt that the lawyers are going to publicly crucify him, but this guy's actions were clearly negligent.
  • by Kenja (541830) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:41PM (#11267855)
    "Back on 9/11, one of my biggest fears was not that terrorists would somehow feel that I was worth picking out of a crowd, but that my government would joyously tear up what remained of the Bill of Rights in an overzealous, misguided attempt to appear to be "doin' sumthin' about terrorism".

    I am very sad to see myself proved right.. almost on a daily basis. "

    Your right. If we cant try to crash commercial airliners and then pin it on our daughters the terorists win!

    The guy was shining a laser at aircraft, including a police helecoptor. He then lied about it and tried to put the blame on his kid. Getting arrested is the least that should happen to him.

  • by killjoe (766577) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:41PM (#11267863)
    What's going on? It's called "the drumbeat". In washington everything is driven by the drumbeat. Somebody dropped the "they can bring down planes with lasers" meme in washington DC and the "we have to do something about it" drums started beating.

    Once those drums are beating they won't stop until people are dead and tortured and may lives are made miserable.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ^BR (37824) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:42PM (#11267868)
    But if this guy gets 25 years, it will send one hell of a shockwave through society and most people will get the message.

    What kind of message would that be... Time to start shooting cop on sight?

    Show me that guys victims, if he get any jail time then truely the US is not a democracy anymore...

  • Right, because (Score:2, Insightful)

    by aristus (779174) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:43PM (#11267901)
    adding a dimension of moral retribution, and intentionally skewing justice "to make an example" is the way we want to go, right?

    What's sickening is that in a way, you are right. Dramatically overpunishing a few to cow the rest is much more efficient than dispensing justice fairly to all. Ask any dictator, junta, or Catholic schoolteacher.

  • YRO (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:44PM (#11267910)
    1. How is this "my rights"?

    I am not a stupd adolescent white male.

    2. How is this "online"?

    It is not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:45PM (#11267936)
    Calm down, everyone. A 5mw laser is a _little_ dangerous at close range, because of the power density (intensity) of the beam. If you've got a 5mw beam with a 300 micron diameter, its intensity is about 250 mw / mm^2. Also, since your pupil is larger than the beam diameter, by pointing it at your eye you can pump the entire 5 mw into your eye.

    That's _kind of_ dangerous, but you have to work pretty hard to do any permanent damage (like stare into the beam for a while).

    On the other hand, lasers like this have a beam divergence of at least half a milliradian (due to diffraction, if nothing else -- it's IMPOSSIBLE to collimate a 300 micron diameter beam of visible light better than that).

    So if you're, say, a kilometer away, the spot size of the laser is a half meter. This gives a power density at the pupil of your eye, of about 80 nanowatts per square millimeter, or 80 milliwatts per square meter.

    Truly, truly harmless.

    That's about 1/12000th the intensity of direct sunlight.

    Anyone who wishes may point their green laser pointer directly at my eyes from a range of 100 meters or more, for as long as they wish.
  • by RealAlaskan (576404) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:47PM (#11267975) Homepage Journal
    1) Laser pointers over 15 miles away - or even nearly 2 miles away - lose a lot of their energy and are no brighter than dim LED bulbs at those distances.
    2) It is virtually impossible to track a laser on a cockpit from 15 miles way, or even from 2 miles away.

    So what's going on?

    From TFA:

    Justice Department officials said they do not suspect terrorism in any of the cases, but said Banach's arrest shows how seriously they take the matter.

    "We need to send a clear message to the public that there is no harmless mischief when it comes to airplanes," said Christopher Christie, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

    They've found some guy who was playing with his laser pointer and they're going to fry him. Doesn't matter whether he was the one they were looking for, doesn't matter whether the guy they were looking for could have done any harm this way if he'd been trying.

    Christie is going to ``do something about terrorism'', and he doesn't care how many of us he has to kill or imprison to make the rest of us feel safer by advancing his career.

    If we're going to start sending people to jail for shining lights at airplanes, maybe we'd be better off without the airplanes. Thanks to these same ``public servants'', it's getting too dangerous to travel by air anymore, anyway.

  • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:50PM (#11268017)
    I have to admit, before the concerns started coming up a couples months ago, painting an aircraft with a laser is the kind of thing I might consider trying on an impulse, but being careful not to do it while it was heading toward me so light couldn't enter the cockpit. It wouldn't take me 25 years to realize that was a little irresponsible, though. It would take about 1 night in jail. Actually, it only took me one news article. Still, some people don't learn as quickly as I do. A small fine and some community service seems like a much better punishment in this case, assuming he had no malicious intent. Remember he reported that his daughter was with him when he did this, which makes me more inclined to believe the story that he was just playing around and did something stupid.
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:50PM (#11268024) Homepage
    Aside from that - I could care less what this guy gets. Even if I agree with the posters claiming that the pilot could obviously not see the laser - anyone who is flashing a laser pointer off at a POLICE HELICOPTER these days is obviously a complete idiot/jackass. To me this is natural selection in action.


    If it's dark, how can you tell it's a police helicopter??

    Given how cheap and easy laser pointers are to get, it's also completely possible that the average person may simply have no clue of their range.

    My initial reaction was to RTFA to see at what altitude the plane was at -- because if it was at 30,000 feet, who cares if you point a laser at it?

    If you were pointing at the bottom of the aircraft, most aircraft don't have any bottom visibility, so it would get missed completely.

  • Forever. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by raehl (609729) <raehl311@@@yahoo...com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:55PM (#11268107) Homepage
    The question isn't intelligence, the question is intent. Chronically stupid means he didn't INTEND to bring down an airliner. We've always gone lighter on people when they didn't have intent, and sometimes if you didn't have intent, an act isn't criminal at all. Whether or not an act is criminal, and how criminal an act is, isn't just determined by the act itself, but also by the INTENT behind the act, and the SUCCESS of the act.

    That's why there's 1st Degree Murder, 2nd Degree Murder, Manslaughter, Reckless Homicide, and Not Guilty by Reason of Mental Defect. If you committed the ACT of boobytrapping your door to have a swolrd come down on someone's head if opened, any of the above could be the correct end result, depending on whether you knew your wife was coming home within 30 minutes of setting the trap, or you saw a door salesman coming to the door so you impulsively chose to set the trap then, or you just always leave the trap set because you're super-anal about property defense, or you set the trap because you believe little green men are trying to get in your front door.

    And even if you intended to kill someone, if your boobytrap fails and only injures them, your charge/sentence will not be as harsh as it would if you were a smarter criminal and built a more effective trap.

    So, yeah, we generally are easier on the stupid.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Phurd Phlegm (241627) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:55PM (#11268110)
    The other possibility is that it was a stupid, stupid person who wasn't really thinking about the consequences of what they were doing at the time and there was no premeditated intent to cause a plane to crash. If that is the case, I think 25 years is a bit extreme.
    If distracting someone running a vehicle is chargable under the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. (tm) act, then they should bung all the store owners with those big animated roadside signs in jail immediately. (Note: I would be in favor of this--if that's the only way they can get business, they should just quietly go bankrupt). They are a lot more distracting than a diffuse laser pointer from thousands of feet away. I can't believe you can hand-hold a pointer on target from a thousand feet away, either. And brief consideration shows that if it was hitting a pilot's eye it couldn't have been much closer than that unless they were on airport property. After all, airplanes are supposed to be a minimum of 1000 feet above a populated area unless they're landing or taking off, and you can't see even close to straight down from the cockpit.

    Likewise, they might as well arrest people for skipping rocks when there's an ocean liner passing by. "You can _kill_ somebody with a rock!" Sheesh.

    I score this as a typical application of what I call The Stupid Person's Syllogism:

    • We must do something about X.
    • Y is something.
    • Therefore, we must do Y.

    Identification of X and Y is left as an exercise for the reader. I think you'll find the SPS explains a lot about modern society.

  • by baudbarf (451398) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:59PM (#11268167) Homepage
    Okay everybody, get out your laser pointers, it's time for an exercise.

    Try to shine that laser at a target the size of a grape. Easy? Okay, make that grape move. Harder, huh? Now make the grape move at 600 miles per hour. Can you still hit it? Now, try doing the same thing to a grape hurtling through space at 600 miles per hour about half a mile away from you. Do you still think you can hit it?

    That grape represents the pilot's eye.

    Now, try holding your laser on that target for a couple minutes - as long as it takes to blind a person.

    Now repeat the exercise to blind the pilot's OTHER eye.

    Now do it two more times to blind the co-pilot's eyes.

    And you'd better hope that the pilots don't respond to the agony of their retinas sizzling away by putting on sunglasses, or ducking or moving in any way!

    This, friends, is the terrorist threat of the week. Please be frightened.
  • by AzrealAO (520019) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:02PM (#11268217)
    You don't need anything sophisticated to stabalize the laser, or track the plane. The terrorist isn't interested in bringing down one specific plane at a specific time. They're just looking for A plane (or just to cause enough Terror due to the threat).

    They'll just keep aiming the lasers at planes until they get lucky and hit the cockpit windows, dazzling pilots during final approach. If they miss the cockpit of one plane, big deal. There'll be another one along in a few minutes, until they decide to bug out and try somewhere else.
  • by aristus (779174) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:02PM (#11268224)
    I was responding to the GP's attitude that the suspect is not only guilty, but should be intentionally overpunished lest it contribute to "the decline of this society". I'm getting pretty sick of the moralistic, "hang the buggers" attitude in recent years.

    Instead of talking about justice or equity, the reasoning centers around social control and the realative worthlessness of individual citizens (not to mention non-citizens).

    I recall a few EMP experiments at a certain Army base that disabled every piece of unshielded electronics for miles around. Luckily there were no aircraft nearby. Punishments? Apologies? None.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jest3r (458429) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:02PM (#11268232)
    Would driving with your highbeams on classify as Reckless Disregard for Human Life? What you if you blinded a bus driver carrying a load of passengers?
  • Re:1 Year?!?! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by p3d0 (42270) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:06PM (#11268279)
    Do you have any idea what it's like to spend a year in jail?

    We have a really whacky idea of appropriate jail terms these days. It's like another form of inflation.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by techno-vampire (666512) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:06PM (#11268289) Homepage
    Show me that guys victims, if he get any jail time then truely the US is not a democracy anymore...

    I sympathise with you, but you're wrong. First, there have always been "victimless crimes," and people in prison for commiting them. Second, what he did could have caused a large number of deaths, and should be punished, just for that. Third, your conclusion is a non sequiter, in that the state of democracy in the USA has nothing to do with this.

    The thing most of us are overlooking is that he could receive a 25 year sentance, not that he will. That's the maximum, and there's no reason to assume he'll be sentanced to that. I'll not be surprised to hear that he receives either probation or a suspended sentance.

  • Re:Walking in fear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by symbolic (11752) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:08PM (#11268332)
    Remember: if you walk around in fear, then the terrorists have already won.

    The irony here is that it's not the terrorists I'm afraid of, it's our own government. Seems the terrorists have won either way.
  • Don't be daft (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gordonjcp (186804) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:08PM (#11268335) Homepage
    That's exactly why the pilot of a commercial aircraft rarely if ever flies the approach by hand.
  • by mrn121 (673604) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:09PM (#11268352) Homepage
    Titling this article "Laser Pointing into the Cockpit of a 747 Could get you 25 Years in Prison" would have made a lot more sense, and made it far less of the shocking "I-can't-believe-how-the-evil-right-wing-governmen t-is-taking-away-our-rights" piece that it is.

    This guy was an idiot. Case closed. Ever read the Darwin Awards? This guy is lucky to still be alive based on how dumb he is. Odds are, 25 years in prison will protect him from doing something else this dumb that will cost him his life.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vicviper (140480) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:10PM (#11268358)
    Would driving with your highbeams on classify as Reckless Disregard for Human Life? What you if you blinded a bus driver carrying a load of passengers?

    Are you asking for a legal opinion or a moral opinion? Are you driving with your highbeams on to intentionally blind the bus driver?

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by csbruce (39509) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:12PM (#11268383)
    After all, how could something so simple as shining a beam on an airplane be a criminal act?

    How could something so simple as removing a stop sign from an intersection be anything more than petty vandalism?
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Brandybuck (704397) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:12PM (#11268390) Homepage Journal
    Every laser I have ever seen includes a prominent and impossible-to-ignore warning: dangerous to your eyeballs you nitwit! The accused shined this laser into the eyeballs of an airline pilot. If the jury (yes, he will get a jury) finds him willfully culpable of this act, then he deserves jail time.

    This is not different than if someone shot a BB gun at an airplane cockpit. The odds of a BB gun penetrating the windscreen of any airplane cockpit is between zero to zilch, but anyone doing so would be up on identical charges. And rightly so. I don't give a shit if he was just "goofing around". All the "goofing around" defense does is throw the crime into the category of "criminal negligence."
  • by Lord_Dweomer (648696) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:13PM (#11268400) Homepage
    While I agree that this is hardly "Your Rights Online", I do think it is relevant to Slashdot since it deals with geek toys possibly becoming illegal, as well as solving a mystery that was most certainly appropriate for Slashdot (the original laser pointer hitting planes story).

    So, I agree this is a bit hyped up, but its nice to have some closure on the story.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:16PM (#11268451)
    Riling Texas is pretty stupid as they supply a lot of the nations needs - we need them, they don't need us, and they have a lot of armed citizens who could easily make sure that all the "stupid crimials" stayed on the OTHER side of the fence, thank you very much.

    No, instead it is far better to simply bring to life the concept of "Escape from New York" and turn the whole city into a giant prison. A lot of the people that should be in such a place are there already (including stock analysts) and furthermore, it would be even harder for terrorists obcessed with harrasing New York to do anything if the population at large was very stupid and/or evil. You can't blow up a building with a bomb in a truck (see previous WTC plot) when your truck is jacked about a block into the city, or you get mugged and loose your briefcase dirty bomb.
  • 1920's Germany (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mrkleen (615083) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:16PM (#11268454)
    wow this country is becoming more and more like the late 20's germany.our personal freedom are being taken away "for our own protection". we also have "the enemy" in germany it was the "big bad jews" in the u.s. its the "terroris muslims who want to destroy american way of life". we had our own "burning of the reightstagg (sp) " whats next ? death sentences for drug users (after all they support the "terrorists") ? howabout camps for "them brown people "? this blows ive never been more ashamed to be an american. its time to start flying the flags the way we did after 9/11 but lets do it the right way and fly them upsidedown.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:20PM (#11268508)
    Agreed. I find it extremely annoying when half the idiots in their gi-normous SUV's and pickups drive around with their foglights on when there isn't any fog.

    Hey!! Spunkmops!!...

    if(fog > 3)
    foglights = on;
    else
    foglights = off;
    endif

    </rant>

    (Or maybe I'm just too light-sensitive and should just plan on staying in my parent's basement... :-)

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dehumanizer (31435) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:23PM (#11268547) Homepage
    They voted for that act because, at the time (just after 9/11), anyone who voted against it would automatically be labeled a "terrorist supporter" and have his/her political career finished.

    Remember, people weren't exactly rational at that time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:24PM (#11268579)
    BZZZZT! wrong, sorry you do not even get the home game....

    a laser beam is not a perfect beam that never spreads, they all spread and semiconductor lasers, the type that you have in ALL portable handheld lasers have a huge beamspread.

    the power of that laser beam is inversly proportional to the diameter of the beam, as that increases not only does the power drop byut the effect of atmospheric scattering increases.

    so he is right, you are drastically wrong.

    and yes I know. I have been a laser experimenter for over 15 years. most college laser specalists have less laser exposure time than I do.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:28PM (#11268622)
    So you are saying that if someone yells "fire" in a crowded auditorium and it happens that this time nobody got hurt that nobody should go to jail? But if it just so happened that someone tripped because their shoelace was untied, and someone triped over them and got hurt, someone might be subject to jail?

    Perhaps in your democracy, there isn't such a concept as negligence or deterence, but I don't think that's a commonly held position. Which at least in this case means that under a democracy, wouldn't your position be moot?

    Just something to ponder before you use the royal "we" again...
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rjstanford (69735) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:31PM (#11268666) Homepage Journal
    Unless you have something or some document I can't find, the US can view any captured in a war zone as either (1) a mercenary if they are from a foreign land, (2) a spy, or (3) an un-uniformed solider and execute them on the spot in compliance with international law.

    Oh, really? Well, you're missing a word from that sentence, so this may be a little unfair, but was that "any one" or "any soldier"? One of the issues is that right now anyone living in a "war zone" (which can be very loosely defined and includes a ton of people) can be picked up as an "enemy combatant." Anyone at all. That's the scary part.

    Now, screening people right then and there is quite difficult. This wouldn't be too bad if there was due process to separate true combatants from people who just happen to, say, be living there at the time. Most people aren't complaining about the fact that these folk can be detained, but in the fact that there's no way to decide if they should have been. Guilty until proven innocent, indeed.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jtheletter (686279) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:31PM (#11268667)
    yeah and no chance of the pilots making their shit up? [...] come on people. at least screw with a solid state laser long enough to know what we are talking about before you start making shit up. [...] the pilots saw the dot in the cockpit... from 2 miles away without heavy and specific stabilization equipment that is 100% impossible.

    First off, they found the man who was in fact shining a green laser at air vehicles, so it's doubtful that the pilots made it up, and what would they stand to gain by fabricating such a story?
    Secondly, no one said it was a solid state laser, at least not in the article [wired.com] that I read. His lawyer claims he bought the laser online for $100 and its intended use was for testing fiber optic cable. Granted, $100 for a green laser pointer sounds about right for a solid state job from thinkgeek, but it's possible either he or his lawyer is lying. Maybe he does have a green pen laser and that's what he turned over to police, but the one he used on the plane could have been a 500mW gas laser he bought after he decided the penlight didn't do it for him?

    Additionally, the wired article says the incident occured on approach at 3,000 feet, which - if we assume a ground angle of 30 degrees - means the beam could have travelled as little as roughly 6,000 ft, just over one mile. A 100mW laser at that distance would still be enough to flashblind someone for a few moments if it got them in the eyes.

    While I agree that all of this should be taken with a grain of salt, and that we're all arguing with too little information, this story is not impossible or even implausible.

  • by ottothecow (600101) <ottothecow@gmaQUOTEil.com minus punct> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:33PM (#11268710) Homepage
    But the high beams instantly kill the drivers vision while they shine (from front or into mirrors) while he is participating in what is already a very dangerous activity. The pilot could afford a few seconds without vision (hell he could get up and do a dance)
  • by bani (467531) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:33PM (#11268722)
    I guess /. editors believe we have a constitutional right to blind pilots of aircraft.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:36PM (#11268769)
    I agree that some real punishment is due and that 25 years is too much.

    And since this is a pretty rare occurence, not a whole lot deterrence value is there.

    I'd give him three months in the pokey. (Nothing sexual intended.)
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jackbird (721605) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:39PM (#11268816)
    We most certainly did. Nathan [wikipedia.org] Hale [ctssar.org]was executed for being caught out of uniform, for example.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by saider (177166) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:40PM (#11268831)
    The problem is that when the sun is out, the pupil is contracted to block much of the energy. At nighttime, the pupil is dialated to allow more light in, which compounds the laser problem.

    I agree that some handheld laser briefly flashing across a cockpit is not a danger. But a laser pointer can cause damage to the eye, especially at night. There was post with a link on the previous slashdot thread which showed that a laser pointer generates a light intensity about 100 the times that of the sun on a typical eye.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LurkerXXX (667952) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:48PM (#11268932)
    Let's see, he warned the cop to watch out when he turned on the laser, because it could 'blind him'. But he was pointing it at the cockpit of an airplane. Yes. I'm calling him stupid. For lots of reasons.

    I don't like the patriot act, etc, at all any more than you do. But I'll work to change the law. I won't go do something moronic and then claim no one should be upset because there is also a bad law on the books.

  • by M. Silver (141590) <silverNO@SPAMphoenyx.net> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:51PM (#11269000) Homepage Journal
    They've found some guy who was playing with his laser pointer and they're going to fry him.

    Naw, they found some guy and they're going to make a lot of noise to the press about frying him.

    You'll notice all the hand-wringing in the article is all "maximum" and "could" and so forth. Dollars to donuts he ends up getting off with a slap on the wrist... which will then be unworthy of even a backpage followup article. Message sent.
  • by cheese_wallet (88279) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:56PM (#11269081) Journal
    Naturally there is a difference between "Your Rights Online" and "Your Online Rights"
  • by l4m3z0r (799504) <kevinNO@SPAMuberstyle.net> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:56PM (#11269086)
    First off, this was illegal when the first laser pointers hit the market. This has nothing to do with terrorism this has to do with the fact that pointing a laser a plane risks a lot of lives. If it crashes it not only kills all on board but likely kills a bunch of people on the ground too. What they are taking serious is how this person threatened many lives by being a dumbass. Yes he should be arrested, and no this has nothing to do with terrorism.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:59PM (#11269116) Journal
    On the other hand, just because someone is shining a laser in the sky doesn't mean that they were aiming at the plane. Point at a white dot that you assume is a star, then you realize it's moving. Oops. You're now guilty of a federal crime.

    The problem is that passing a law in which a particular intent is illegal means that the terrorists can get off if they can plausibly state that their intent was pointing out stars to someone, while passing a law that doesn't take into account intent means that astronomers can accidentally get charged with terrorism and have no recourse.

    Long story short, the right answer is to properly design aircraft so that this isn't an issue. An ideal design would include a handful of cameras and VR panorama glasses. Only slide the window shades out of the way if the electronic navigation fails. Even better, it could give you a 360-degree view of the area around the plane, which would have some nice advantages.

  • by norkakn (102380) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:03PM (#11269172)
    um.. do you have __ANY__ idea what 25 years in jail is? that's one's whole career. that is your life. when you come out, you are old and cannot find work and cannor get a job and a good number of the people you knew a re dead and the rest either don't remember you or don't want to talk to you.

    30 days in county jail for being a jackass sure, but 25 years?
  • by mks180 (442267) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:04PM (#11269182)
    I generally don't agree with the Patriot Act. I would rather have the guy prosecuted under charges other than terrorism. It will be interesting to see how they plan on making the terrorism charges stick. I'm sure you can easily get him on reckless endangerment of all on board, or probably something worse for trying to maim the pilots. Most of the articles that I read on the subject say that you could "temporarily blind" the pilots. Working around lasers, I know it doesn't take much for it to be much worse than just temporary blindness, depending on the power and proximity. Based on the altitude, the lasers must have a fair bit of power, just don't know whether they're still in range to do serious, long term damage.
  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:09PM (#11269247)
    And yet... what type of plane does not change the story at all whatsoever. Your correction misses the forest for the trees.
  • by Darth23 (720385) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:12PM (#11269284) Journal
    If someone criticizes Republicans, woy would you automatically assume that they are supporters of the Democrats or Hillary or Kerry?

    That simplistic dualistic thinking drives really gets on my nerves.

    'You don't like A therefore you must like B because the mainstream mindset defines A and B as opposites.'

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rworne (538610) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:18PM (#11269365) Homepage
    Considering the pilots in the Cessna got flashed three times, and a helicopter got flashed by the same guy, I'm pretty sure it was intentional.

    Still, pre- and post-9/11 stories are interesting to read. Post 9/11 stories abound with "terrorists using lasers to possibly down planes" whereas pre-9/11 stories are about mischief, poor planning, and training pilots not to stare at the beam. Funny how things change.

    Pre 9/11 laser-plane stories:
    Problems with Laser Light Shows [fda.gov]
    Outdoor Laser Safety Is in the Hands of the FAA [photonics.com]

    As another note, we had some asshat firing a pellet gun at car windows back in the 90's. Someone was caught shining a laser pointer at a vehicle and arrested as a suspect. Funny (and scary) thing was listening to the idiot talking heads on TV speculating if a common laser pointer could shatter a car windshield. Yes, they were serious about it.

    Post 9/11, they are going all out to hang some asshat out to dry for screwing with planes. The idiots who do this deserve to be punished, but what it really looks like is lasers are getting set up to be regulated and/or removed from public availability.

    What's really interesting is that there is an FAA report (April 2001) documenting at least 150 instances of cockpit illuminations between 1996 and 1999. That's about once a week. It wasn't big news then.

    I'd love to get one of those 100mW green lasers to mess around with, but now I can't. I would expect some kind of bill being introduced in Congress soon to address this issue now that they are back in session.
  • by Jtheletter (686279) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:23PM (#11269444)
    Sucks to be him sure, but you need to either argue that we should never make examples of anyone (which has a cost) or argue that the example won't be effective.

    You're right, I was vague about that point, but I make these up as I go, heh, no one who took the time to really craft a response would get one up in time to be modded otherwise. I think my point was that while an example may be required, there is a balance between a reasonable punishment and an effective example. A balance that a 25 year sentence in this case broadly oversteps.

    If we take a look at what 'making an example of someone' means here it's does the cost of getting caught prevent someone from pulling the prank? Most anyone would agree 5 to 10 years is plenty to dissuade 99.9% of the idiots out there. Anyone who still decides it's a good idea with even that length of sentence would probably not be swayed by another 15 years tacked on. I mean, hell, why not just give him life, that'll set an example.

    What we need to do is find that middle ground where the sentence is strict enough that both the crook and others learn a lesson, but that does not needlessly burden our system with yet another "criminal" who would be better off out paying taxes instead of using them in federal prison and taking up the bunk of someone who rapes/murders/commits intentional terrorism.

    As others have pointed out, though, the 25 years possible sentence is the result of a number of charges strung together, which includes lying to a federal officer. In the end though, people are going to read the headlines and equate lasing an airplane with whatever the jailtime is, regardless of what the details of the charges were.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GlassHeart (579618) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:26PM (#11269485) Journal
    Except for the fact that he's an American citizen, while the savages locked away at Gitmo are not.

    In your hatred, you have forgotten one crucial principle behind the US legal system: innocent until proven guilty. Yes, the people locked away in Cuba might be "savages" who deserve it, but that determination is made through due process. When it is not, then what you have may not be but is indistinguishable from locking away people arbitrarily.

    The prison system at Gitmo holds people whose guilt are determined with no formal proceedings by the US military. They are held indefinitely and (before much protests) without any possibility of appeal. The administration of the prison is basically not examined by any third party or even another US government branch. For a country that rightly prides itself in a system of checks and balances, Gitmo is an embarrassment and a danger to US reputation. The US governmental system is designed to not trust any single person or agency, and that has worked very well.

    The US Constitution applies to US Citizens ONLY. Foreign nationals are granted NO constitutional protections, unless they become US Citizens.

    You are plainly wrong. Foreign nationals generally enjoy the same legal protections as US citizens when on US soil. That's why the so-called illegal combatants had to be sent to Cuba to skirt this. If you were right, then you can sue any foreigner in the US and win by default, and the cops could lock up foreigners for any reason for any length of time.

    If the terrorists want to be treated as POW's under Geneva, then fine - just as soon as they start identifying themselves with some form of uniform or mark

    Terrorism as a strategy evolves from the inability to fight a superior power head-on, so people who resort to terrorism are unlikely to revert to "civilized" nation-to-nation warfare that is common to recorded history.

    During WWII American pilots dropped incendiary bombs on various cities, and caused deaths of enemy civilians in the hundreds of thousands at a time. They did so in uniform. I'm not calling them war criminals at all, but I want to point out that we do want to be very careful what we designate as "civilized" war and otherwise. Judged by today's standards (which includes much better technology to possibly win a war without killing so many), those actions might be considered war crimes. It is therefore folly to think that the definition of civilized behavior is immobile, and in part that definition has usually considered the actual ability of a party at war.

    The main problem is, terrorism isn't going away, and as even Bush had admitted, the war on "terror" as a concept may never be won. It is better to find a real way to deal with captured terrorists, rather than hide in the legal limbo between US law and the Geneva Convention.

  • by Ahnteis (746045) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:28PM (#11269524)
    HOW do people driving cars manage to see the road? I mean, the windshield is ON TOP of the car and the road is BELOW the car.
  • by vondo (303621) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:28PM (#11269528)
    Why is trying to crash a plane loaded with civilians into the ground, where it will hurt civilians not terrorism? Just because a well-defined political motive is (apparently) missing?

    I think many of us in the U.S. have recently redefined terrorism to "any action those Islamists take against us," which is just not accurate.

  • by Leo McGarry (843676) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:29PM (#11269533)
    It is not a crime which compares to the sort for which people spend 25 years in prison.

    Calmly and patiently carrying out an act which any reasonable person could foresee would have the potential consequence of bringing down an airplane isn't a crime for which people spend 25 years in prison?

    Sounds an awful lot like attempted murder in the second degree to me.
  • by josh3736 (745265) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:29PM (#11269545) Homepage
    ...I told you so.

    "Don't worry guy, we'll never use PATRIOT to prosecute citizens. We'll only use it to fight terrorism." (Imagine it coming from Saddam in South Park.)

    Now we're using PATRIOT for day-to-day law enforcement. I'm not saying this guy should not be punished for his stupidity; I'm saying we should all be concerned for the day a National Security Letter and a unmarked van take you away.

  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:30PM (#11269549) Homepage
    I don't think it's possible to inflict any harm on any aircraft with a laser pointer.
    I agree. However, it would be possible (though *incredibly* unlikely) to blind the pilot or distract him long enough to cause an accident.

    Granted, a searchlight aimed at the plane or even a sufficiently large display of BOOBIES might have the same effect ...

    This was a harmless bit of mischief.
    Probably not even that. He was probably just amused that he could see his laser pointer spot on the plane. But he's probably regretting it now ...
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rworne (538610) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:32PM (#11269591) Homepage
    Sorry, I was just annoyed at all the media attention.

    Common sense tells me that while he may not have intended to blind pilots or cause harm, he was interfering with the flight crew in such a way as to cause a safety hazard. This brings up the question of why the Patriot Act was (mis)used.

    This laser pointer incident is caused by the same type of idiocy that compels people to fire guns into the air on New Year's day.
  • Wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Presence1 (524732) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:51PM (#11269816) Homepage
    First, lasers do spread (although a lot less than incoherent light), so the dot several miles away is larger than the dot several feet away.

    Second, aiming is not as difficult or impossible as you make out - -the plane is moving, but in a steady and not erratic way. He reportedly succeeded in temporarily "blinding" or at least dazzling the pilots fo the first plane. That was just with a hand held laser -- add a good mount and scope, it'll become trivial for any good rifleman. Remember, a good long distance rifleman can put a bullet in a 10" target at ranges of thousands of yards, and the bullet doesn't expand and is affected by wind. The laser is not significanlty affected by wind, and does expand.

    Third, some kinds of lasers can blind you in microseconds, especially infrared lasers. They are well refracted by the human eye, and just being in the visible range unprotected will blind people literally before they know it. This is so bad that there are specific prohibitions in war crimes for using any type of laser to blind the enemy, and the spectrum on some weapons programs have been changed to prevent blinding from reflections (which would generate war crimes charges).

    Fourth, you don't have to actually cause permanent blindness, just bounce enough light around the cockpit that the pilots cannot see well or focus consistently, and you have a good chance of crashing the plane.

    Just because you aren't smart enough to figure out how to make something work doesn't mean that other people can't figure it out.

    I don't have any great love for the government, and I'm against the Patriot act and especially misuse of it. But give credit where credit is due; they are right in this case. Even if this guy is merely an idiot -- he is a very dangerious idiot.
  • by twitter (104583) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:52PM (#11269824) Homepage Journal
    what are you saying? that the feds shouldn't prosecute this guy for interfering with a flight crew and/or reckless endangerment? please clarify.

    It looks like what he's saying is that this was an arrest for show that has little to do with fighting terrorism and much to do with making the FBI look good. We have the FBI themselves admitting that they do not think any of the suspects are terrorists, but simply think they are pranksters. I'd like to see them even prove the pranksters are guilty, and I doubt they care. What they did was fly around long enough to see a green flash, then they broke down doors.

    It's possible, and we should presume, them man is innocent. He could have been doing just what he said he was doing, demonstrating a laser pointer to his daughter by pointing it at trees and sky. I doubt very much that he intended to blind air crew.

    To prove guilt to me you would have to have recordings of green light from the same location for a long duration and from multiple locations. Anything else to me is an accident.

    It would be reprehensible for the FBI to make a splash like this, and they will prosecute all the harder to avoid the embarrassment of losing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:00PM (#11269913)
    Several years ago while on a walk at night, I was hit with a laser in my eye. The laser was being used by kids a block away, and my eye hurt the rest of the night.

    Having said that, I think 25 years is a bit long, but this idiot was obviously doing more than pointing out stars. I think arresting him to make a point to everybody else out there is a good idea.
  • by Ayaress (662020) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:09PM (#11270012) Journal
    I considered the use of the PATRIOT act to take down a file swapping site with episodes of Stargate SG1 a lot worse than this. This guy's far from a terrorist, and I swear there must be some other applicable law they could use against him.

    Still, I think the gap between shining a laser on a plane for shits and giggles and shining a laser on a plane to allow a guided weapon to target it is a lot narrower (relatively speaking) than the gap between copyright violations and any kind of terrorism.
  • Re:1920's Germany (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SensitiveMale (155605) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:12PM (#11270052)
    wow this country is becoming more and more like the late 20's germany.

    I was wondering how soon it would be until someone blamed Bush.

    our personal freedom are being taken away "for our own protection".

    Are you saying everyone should have the freedom to blind a pilot controlling a plane full of passengers and then to do it again? What if you are on that plane?

    we also have "the enemy" in germany it was the "big bad jews" in the u.s. its the "terroris muslims who want to destroy american way of life".

    I'm not sure the "big bad Jews" staged multiple terrorist attacks for over 20 years that culminated in 3000 deaths and an economic hit of more than a trillion dollars but I'll google it and see. I'll also check to see if the US has opened concentration camps across the country and interned every Muslim in this country. I don't think it has happened but you seem sure.

    whats next ? death sentences for drug users (after all they support the "terrorists") ?

    We've had a drug problem for over 40 years and I have yet to see death sentences for addicts. To the contrary, I have read how the government has funneled billions and billions into treatment programs and facilities.

    howabout camps for "them brown people "?

    Nice racist remark.

    this blows ive never been more ashamed to be an american. its time to start flying the flags the way we did after 9/11 but lets do it the right way and fly them upsidedown.

    If it bothers you that much, feel free to leave or renounce your citizenship.
  • Re:Only 25 years? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rworne (538610) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:26PM (#11270199) Homepage
    Silly is a laser pointer in a movie theater.

    Reckless is a laser pointer lighting up an airplane. Yes it sounds like loads of fun to try, in fact my "inner redneck" is just itching to see if it really can be done. The laser pointer is pretty much harmless, but why try to annoy and/or distract people who are responsible for the safety of up to hundreds of people in the air and on the ground? Especially when at these times they are usually busy taking off or landing the plane.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @07:33PM (#11270273)
    I noted when this article first came out that the mischief was more of the malicious bozo type than the terrorist type. This guy definitely needs to be spanked, as he could have crashed the plane, but charging him under the PATRIOT Act seems to be excessive. "What can we charge him with? How about charging him with terrorism under the PATRIOT act?"

    We seem to be entering a new McCarthy era, with the word 'Terrorist" substituted for the word 'Communist.' Same old stuff - different label.
  • by frdmfghtr (603968) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:01PM (#11270538)
    Since the original link didn't work..

    http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2005-01-04-las er-aircraft_x.htm [usatoday.com]

    I'll grant you that tossing the word "terrorist" into this case is a bit of a stretch, but let's consider two points:

    (1) He shined it at an aircraft one night; and

    (2) He did it AGAIN two days later, at a police helicopter no less. It wasn't a one-time fluke that he was painting aircraft.

    Now, another story I read recently stated that the FBI/DHS/whomever does not suspect that terrorists are behind this, but then again a laser doesn't have to guide a missile to bring down an airplane, just distract the aircrew or cause them to take evasive action for a non-existent shoulder-launched missile attack.

    Nor does a terrorist have to be a citizen of a country other than the US (as in Timothy McVeigh). Does this guy have a prior criminal record? The story doesn't say. Nor does it say if the laser simply hit the aircraft for a split second or if it traced its path through the sky.

    So, if one thinks about it a little, antiterrorism charges aren't necessarily as far out as one might think. Do I think they are pretty far out? Sure, but not impossible either.
  • by Moofie (22272) <lee@@@ringofsaturn...com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:13PM (#11270665) Homepage
    ...which is why laws about terrorism are such a bad idea.

    Terrorism is a thought crime.
  • which is why (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:20PM (#11270731) Homepage Journal
    you don't put a victims family on the jury.
  • by SilverspurG (844751) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:55PM (#11271047) Homepage Journal
    You dont blame your children, you take the blames.

    Let me guess this straight. The cops are flying around in the middle of the day and supposedly they can see a green dot on the outside of the helicopter while they're sitting on the inside? Then they go knocking around the neighborhood. They don't find anyone so they go flying around a few hours later. Now, maybe the second time it's dark enough where they can see the beam from the green laser, but they still can't see the outside of the helicopter unless they're hanging out the windows.

    Then, when the cops come questioning around the neighborhood, this guy mentions off-handedly that, well, yeah... his daughter was out back with the laser that he brought home from work. The cops swarm the house and say they'll have to take the girl away for questioning. At that point the guy stands up and says,"Wait. Don't take my daughter. I was just making that up. It was me out back waving the laser around."

    "Oh wait? You mean that laser hit a plane? No! I didn't know! You mean you're going to subject me to a lie detector test based on nothing more than a hunch and light you supposedly saw on the outside of the helicopter while inside of it? Have the pilots had a lie detector? Have the people in the police chopper had a lie detector?"

    I'd say the guy's taking the fall for his daughter and should be applauded.
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ATMAvatar (648864) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:05PM (#11271134) Journal
    This is not about making people safer. It's about testing how far our powers go after their dramatic expansion under the Patriot Act.
  • by frdmfghtr (603968) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:07PM (#11271155)
    That sounds about right. Mind you, I'm playing Devil's Advocate here.

    Use or threat of force: a laser painting a target could be a threat of force; how does the target know it's "some dumbass" and not a black-market laser-guided missile? If you're walking late at night through a park and you get painted with a laser, how do you know it's some young punk kid out for kicks and not a crazed gunman with a laser sight and a finger on the trigger?

    Also, as you pointed out, it's with the intention of intimidating, not necessarily succeeding. Nor does it have to be for political or ideological reason, but often it is that goal.

    As I said before, does it appear that tossing the phrase "terrorism" into the mix seem outlandish? Absolutely. But it's not absolutely impossible, either. That was my point.
  • by TWX (665546) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:26PM (#11271700)
    I noted when this article first came out that the mischief was more of the malicious bozo type than the terrorist type. This guy definitely needs to be spanked, as he could have crashed the plane, but charging him under the PATRIOT Act seems to be excessive. "What can we charge him with? How about charging him with terrorism under the PATRIOT act?"
    Well, if we're lucky then the court will exhonerate him on the terrorism charges, which might make it difficult for them to continue any further prosecution. If that happens more than once, the Attorney General's office would be forced to start charging people with the actual crime they've committed rather that something like terrorism, and maybe the legal system would make sense.

    Remember, the courts are, in theory, their own masters, so just because the guy is charged with something doesn't mean that he's guilty of it. The Executive branch, through its lawyers and law enforcement officers prosecute the laws that the legislative branch has passed, or don't if they ultimately don't want to. They then have to convince the judicial branch (through the jury) that 1) the law was just, and/or 2) that the law applies.

    Off topic, but "Judicial Activism" isn't a problem in my opinion, as it's always interpretation of existing law to remove conflicts and remove unjust laws. A Judge can't legislate from the bench beyond striking a law that conflicts with other laws or Constitutional law. Sometimes this does force the legislature to act, like if a judge throws out something passed by the legislature, like a school disctrict budget that doesn't treat everyone approximately equally, but that ultimately is their power.

    The Judicial branch has been rumbling a bit about Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and I suspect that they'll get even noisier if the Executive branch tries to hold people indefinitely, as that is direct violation of habeas corpus.

    we'll have to see what happens in all of this.
  • by polysylabic psudonym (820466) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @10:27PM (#11271714) Journal
    Have you ever tried pointing out a star with a laser pointer? It seems a pretty flimsy excuse.
  • by jc42 (318812) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @11:34PM (#11272132) Homepage Journal
    Why is trying to crash a plane loaded with civilians into the ground, where it will hurt civilians not terrorism? Just because a well-defined political motive is (apparently) missing?

    Exactly. The term "terrorism" arose (in France) to describe acts of violence against civilians in order to put pressure on their government. It is widely used with other meanings these days, and of course the US government often uses it for "anyone who does violent acts that we don't like". But the original meaning [wikipedia.org] was attacking civilians with a specific motive: influencing the government. It still has this meaning to most people with much historical knowledge.

    Under this definition, the guys act may have been reckless endangerment, but it certainly wasn't terrorism. There has been no accusation that he (or his daughter) was attempting to influence anyone at all, much less any government.

  • by jrockway (229604) * <jon-nospam@jrock.us> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @11:50PM (#11272227) Homepage Journal
    What difference does it make? If they have a missile, they will missile you regardless of whether or not you like the laser.

    The worst a laser can do is scare you. If you're going to be shot, you're going to be shot regardless of whether or not you see the laser beam...

    And BTW doesn't beam divergence come into play here? How did they know it was a laser and not a bright green light? I say, if they don't like the laser then don't look at it.

    Sending some photons at someone (at long range) shouldn't be a crime. Missiles and bullets are illegal, but weak lasers, no. Just no. :)
  • by jrockway (229604) * <jon-nospam@jrock.us> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @11:55PM (#11272246) Homepage Journal
    I have an assignment for you. Using only this green laser from ThinkGeek, take down a commercial airline.

    I'll bet you can't do it. Wonder why.
  • by jrockway (229604) * <jon-nospam@jrock.us> on Thursday January 06, 2005 @12:12AM (#11272348) Homepage Journal
    We should make the Sun illegal because if you look into that for a minute or two you might go blind.
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Thursday January 06, 2005 @12:20AM (#11272402)
    --At least not before it became law.

    You have no problem with that?

    Anyway, since then it HAS indeed been examined, and you'll pardon me if I don't share your rosy assessment.

    As for being easy to read. . . The USA PATRIOT Act may indeed be written in "clear and concise English", but it is nonetheless damned hard to work through as it constantly references other laws and statutes to which it makes dozens of wording changes and amendments. --And you'll pardon me again if I don't share your feeling that "small modifications" to existing laws are no big deal. In law, it's all about the wording; the difference between words can kill a man or set him free.

    --Indeed, in order to make sense of the PATRIOT Act, one has to have numerous other legal documents available, and more importantly, understand in context those other laws which are being altered. Reading the Act is by no means an easy task, and that you describe it as such is just plain baffling.

    --And beyond all of that, one of my favorite parts is how the Sunset clause (section 224) includes a whole string of exceptions which leave a variety of those amendments snuggly in place after the December 2005 cancel date.

    The fact of the matter is that a large amount of American law has been significantly altered without any review. This kind of law-making should never be done without scrutiny or debate. --At least not in a country claiming to be democratic. But instead it was deliberately pulled off during a time of high emotion; deliberately made unavailable for proper readings.

    I have a problem with that, and if you don't, then you are the last one who should be calling anybody ignorant.


    -FL

  • Re:Enough already! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Xepherys2 (174396) <`ten.syrehpex' `ta' `syrehpex'> on Thursday January 06, 2005 @12:56AM (#11272592) Homepage
    Well, care is needed indeed. In fact, the US Patriot Act as a whole is an afront to the rights that the Bill of Rights put forth. However, I do believe that this is a serious issue and that the man in question does deserve his day in court. I wish the fed could find charges that did not invoke the USPA.

    However, calling this a non-threat is akin to saying it shouldn't be illegal to put pennies on passenger rail tracks. While it appears harmless enough 99.99% of the time, the one time it does kill 500 people is worth it being illegal to begin with.

    I agree, giving up personal freedoms is NOT acceptable. I want to reiterate this strongly! I do not believe the USPA has citizens best interest in mind. I do believe this man (and other doing the same thing) are/were wrong and should be dealt with accordingly.
  • by jrockway (229604) * <jon-nospam@jrock.us> on Thursday January 06, 2005 @12:57AM (#11272594) Homepage Journal
    No, but feel free to send some photons their way. Photons != Bullets.
  • Re:send it back (Score:3, Insightful)

    by toddestan (632714) on Thursday January 06, 2005 @01:58PM (#11277857)
    It's not that the ThinkGeek laser pointer could do anything to an airplane, it's the fact that people (including the police) believe it can.

    By the way, you are a moron.

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