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Laser Strikes On Aircraft Becoming Epidemic 687

Posted by timothy
from the good-place-to-put-advertising dept.
First time accepted submitter AlphaWolf_HK writes "Ars Technica has a story about a 52 year old man who was arrested and sentenced to three years in jail for shining a high powered green laser at a helicopter along with an interesting video showing how he was tracked down. The FBI says that laser strikes are becoming epidemic, saying that they expect to see reports of 3,700 of them this year."
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Laser Strikes On Aircraft Becoming Epidemic

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  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:15PM (#41571935)

    "sentenced to three years in jail for shining a high powered green laser at a helicopter "

    Good. And since it's a federal crime, he gets to serve 85 percent of that.

    I almost had someone arrested for shining a laser at my friggin' eyes across a bar. But since I knew the person and knew he wasn't "all there" I just confronted him.

    But if it was anyone else, I would have pressed charges. Yes, it's assault.

    There needs to be *at a minimum* public education on this issue, and if nobody is willing to do that, then handheld lasers need to be outright banned for unlicensed individuals. This opinion is unpopular for slashdot, but shit really has gotten out of hand.

    --
    BMO

  • by Jahf (21968) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:17PM (#41571945) Journal

    Actually I think a few of these cases getting out and being better known -would- prevent many cases. Face it, this didn't start proliferating as a problem on it's own. People saw the news where a few of these cases happened and though "oh that's funny, I could do that too, no one can catch me". Cases skyrocketed over the last couple of years since the news got posted.

    That same approach can be made to curtail the problem. It just requires an equal amount of energy being put into it.

    The only problem I see with this particular article was that it was very clear just how much of a dumbshit the guy with the laser was. If he had been inside a building or car going from place to place to change where he used the laser from he probably wouldn't have been caught. Likewise had he discarded the laser the second he saw a police car coming, while out of site of the helicopter, chances are fair they wouldn't have found the evidence either.

    What "technical solution" do you see to visible light being shown through a window? And how could you make it commercially viable to every aircraft in the sky? Brainstorm it. If you find something, great, but that's a pretty damned huge problem.

  • Re:Good. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:24PM (#41572019) Homepage Journal

    There needs to be *at a minimum* public education on this issue, and if nobody is willing to do that, then handheld lasers need to be outright banned for unlicensed individuals. This opinion is unpopular for slashdot, but shit really has gotten out of hand.

    No, i'm not going to willingly give up my rights because someone else is a moron.

    And i dont even want one... and id still fight against that.

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:25PM (#41572031)

    For a country in constant fear of terrorists hijacking their planes you take it pretty lightly when someone actually tries to make airplanes fall. Three is a very light sentence, they should make an example of those that get caught.

  • by sobolwolf (1084585) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:30PM (#41572077) Journal
    My young Stepson got one of these (powerful green laser) and I was pretty much blown away at the power of it... I did see when he was unpacking it lots of warnings so I spent some time with him when he first tested it out. So we get outside at night and what is the first thing he tries to do, yep point it a plane flying overhead... so cue the huge boring lecture from me about the danger of these things and how if he gets caught pointing his laser at planes, or cars or people's eyes he will be sent to a boys home... well I think he got the point. The main thing is that kids need to understand the danger of these things and there is a responsibility for parents to keep up with the times and actually understand that "new toy"...
  • Epidemic? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:32PM (#41572085)

    There are approximately 76000 aircraft departures in the US every day. 76000*365= 27,740,000. 3,700/27,740,000= .00013. So 0.013% of flights have reported a laser strike and no aircraft have been downed. It would seem that the FAA need to look at the definition of epidemic.

  • Re:Good. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by bonehead (6382) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:32PM (#41572089)

    then handheld lasers need to be outright banned

    Perhaps licensing.

    Fuck you both. The last thing this country needs is people actively suggesting ways to strip more freedoms away from the people.

  • by Score Whore (32328) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:40PM (#41572163)

    You could certainly make it a combination of technical and legal. For example you make it illegal to manufacture or import a laser of any but a handful of wavelengths. Then install filters for those wavelengths over the cockpit windows. Yes it won't stop everything. But the vast majority of lasers are commercially purchased. If you can't purchase one that will get into a cockpit, problem solved.

    For the ass-hats who insist on building their own and proceed to point it at airplanes and cars, well we can start with two to four charges of assault and go on to three hundred cases of attempted first degree murder. Followed up by a couple hundred civil lawsuits. Not only can they spend the rest of their lives in jail, but they will be bankrupted as well. If they happened to be married -- until their spouse gets a divorce -- joint property for the win. Go ahead and make the wife and kids homeless.

    There is no rational reason why a civil society should have to put up with this kind of shit.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:41PM (#41572185)

    > I don't like the idea of a technological future where only our betters (the cops) can get cool technology.

    I said "a ban for unlicensed individuals" just like you can't buy a kilowatt radio transmitter without a license from any reputable radio shop (there are plenty of assholes who will sell linears to CB owners, though, and they should be shut down).

    You need to prove you're not an idiot before you can use technology that can do damage to people at a distance. And yes, people who can prove that they are not idiots *are* better than idiots, like this guy in the video.

    Perhaps a graduated licensing scheme should be in order. Beyond a certain power, only businesses, scientists, and engineers should be allowed to have them after demonstrating a legitimate need.

    --
    BMO

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:42PM (#41572193) Homepage Journal

    The last thing this country needs is people actively suggesting ways to strip more freedoms away from the people.

    No, that's the second-last thing this country needs. The last thing this country needs is a bunch of people walking around blind because dumbfucks like to play with pretty lights.

  • by NormalVisual (565491) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:42PM (#41572195)
    You want a technical solution that shields the pilots/airborne vehicle from lasers? That would be technically impossible.

    Impossible? Almost all of the cases in question have involved handheld 532nm green lasers from a substantial distance, so all you really need to do is mix up a coating to apply to the windows that contains the same dye that laser safety goggles use. The filtering wouldn't have to be particularly strong to effectively eliminate the green light, resulting in a slight orangeish tint to the aircraft windows. Alternately, instead of coating the windows you could make filters from plastic sheets that attach to the windows at night using Velcro or some other means. It's not a difficult problem to solve.
  • by jamesh (87723) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:42PM (#41572197)

    My young Stepson got one of these (powerful green laser) and I was pretty much blown away at the power of it... I did see when he was unpacking it lots of warnings so I spent some time with him when he first tested it out. So we get outside at night and what is the first thing he tries to do, yep point it a plane flying overhead... so cue the huge boring lecture from me about the danger of these things and how if he gets caught pointing his laser at planes, or cars or people's eyes he will be sent to a boys home... well I think he got the point. The main thing is that kids need to understand the danger of these things and there is a responsibility for parents to keep up with the times and actually understand that "new toy"...

    Aren't there laws against letting kids play with these things? You say "powerful" but don't specify the power, but i'm guessing it's high powered enough that it could blind you. And by young i assume you mean under 12 (or you would have said teenage). Does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture? Kids that age are very likely to go from "hey wouldn't it be funny if..." to actually doing it without thinking it through, regardless of the number of "boring lectures" they've been submitted to. Especially when he's angling to impress a few mates. He doesn't need parental guidance, he needs parental supervision every time the thing comes out of its box. I'd be treating it with similar caution as a gun.

  • by MindPrison (864299) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:51PM (#41572273) Journal

    I remember the time when I bought a HeNe Gas laser back in the 80's to make a spectacular laser show with, for the neighbors. I had no intentions on shining lights on airplanes or innocent people at all.

    And I use lasers all the time in my electronics lab for experimentation.

    Unfortunately, lasers have become so cheap, and super powerful laser-pointers (which has no real world use whatsoever) has become available to the street-kids, so we'll undoubtedly see these lasers become illegal for anyone to possess and own. Including innocent experimenters at home, thanks to the idiots in the streets who just find it fun to point 200mw lasers at anyone.

    5mw is enough for anyone who wants to "play" with a laser pointer, it'll reach several hundred meters, enough to bedazzle the laymen out in the streets, and makes no difference from any 200mw+ laser whatsoever visibly, and furthermore...it won't blind anyone, not destroy pilots sights or policemen etc.

    In fact...not even a 200mw laser will blind ANY pilot, as it is a physical impossibility to hold a 200mw laser beam of any significant distance steady by a human hand, it will shake - it will sway, it will swing...and the atmosphere will pollute and defocus the beam itself so it won't harm anyone.

    Sad...just sad.

  • by bmo (77928) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:54PM (#41572305)

    This wasn't by accident. It didn't "briely pass over an aircraft."

    If you actually watched the video, the laser was pointed directly at the helicopter over a series of minutes. Accidental pointing would have been unlikely for such a period of time, since you need to track the helicopter for that long.

    >Have we slid so far down the slippery slope that something like this will become punishable?

    Your argument is unreasonable and legitimizes the pointing of lasers at people who have lives in their hands.

    >There's some really stupid shit that can get them in big trouble.

    And you can't deliberately point a weapon at whim at a person and not get in big trouble.

    Mens rea was demonstrated in the video. He got done and fairly so.

    --
    BMO

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:57PM (#41572337)
    It's a BEHAVIOR problem. There is no such thing as a technical solution to a behavior problem.
  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @06:58PM (#41572349) Homepage Journal

    You are not granted rights.
    Government does not grant rights, it recognizes them.

    If you are in the US, please learn that the Constitution is NOT an enumeration of the rights of people, it's an enumeration of the rights of GOVERNMENT. All rights not mentioned in the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people.

    Read the tenth amendment.

    Do you REALLY want to live in a world where what rights you have are decided by someone else? Granted by government? Taken away by government?

  • by Grave (8234) <awalbert88.hotmail@com> on Saturday October 06, 2012 @07:11PM (#41572477)

    Lasers are not the problem. The appropriate solution is to label the crime what it is -- attempted murder against the number of people onboard. Have fun with your back to back life sentences for trying to kill 300 people, jackass.

  • Re:Good. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by artor3 (1344997) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @07:23PM (#41572579)

    Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my face. Your freedom shine a laser ends at my eyes. If you go farther than we as a society allow, then we as a society have the freedom to put you down. Welcome to the human race. Get along with others, or be removed from it.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JDG1980 (2438906) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @07:26PM (#41572603)

    Do you REALLY want to live in a world where what rights you have are decided by someone else? Granted by government? Taken away by government?

    You already live in that world, and so does everyone else. You can claim all you want that your rights are granted by God or Nature, but see how much good it does you to petition God or Nature if and when they are taken away.

    Under Lockean social contract theory, people relinquish some of their primeval rights to live more comfortably within a settled society. That more accurately describes how things work in most of the modern First World. "The Government" isn't supposed to be some alien being; it's supposed to be We, the People, acting collectively to provide the public goods set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution. If We the People decide that banning high-powered lasers without a license is necessary to "insure domestic Tranquility" then that is what is going to happen.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @07:28PM (#41572621)

    What could possibly go wrong? The cost/weight of high def video cameras and display screens isn't so bad, but the potential for failure is going to spook most pilots. They know that wires don't short out and make their windows go black...

    On the other hand, a lot of aircraft could benefit from a low angle looking camera/screen so the pilot can see the runway clearly on approach.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bonehead (6382) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @07:34PM (#41572685)

    The last thing this country needs is a bunch of people walking around blind because dumbfucks like to play with pretty lights.

    I see the point you're making, but disagree with the proposed solution with every last fiber of my being. Stripping freedom from non-dumbfucks as a result of the actions of a few actual dumbfucks does not make the world a better or safer place. A dumbfuck without a laser pointer will go find other ways to showcase his dumbfuckery. Some may be less dangerous, some will certainly be more dangerous.

    If you can figure out a way to eliminate dumbfucks, then, and only then, can you have a nice, safe world. Trying to outlaw each and every assorted manner in which they may display their idiocy is A) unfair to the majority who don't need to be told not to point lasers at people, and B) pointless, since the people who do this kind of crap will just dream up new ways to do the same kind of crap.

    I willingly and happily accept the fact that living in a world that has dangers is part of the price of freedom, and safety without freedom is not a world worth living in.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2012 @07:43PM (#41572747)

    "Go ahead and make the wife and kids homeless."

    That fact that democracy lets people like you have power over me is fucking terrifying.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @07:47PM (#41572797) Journal

    Nice strawman. Murder or attempted murder requires mens rea. Most people who do this are not trying to kill anyone. They're just being idiots.

    Reckless endangerment, sure. Attempted murder? Good luck getting that to stick. You'd be laughed out of court.

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @07:49PM (#41572821) Journal

    Flip-up panels. If something goes wrong, you reach over, flip it up out of the way, and you have your windows back.

  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @08:02PM (#41572913) Journal

    Why make them wear goggles? Apply the film to the windshield.

  • that doesn't mean we stop fighting murder

    right is right and wrong is wrong. of course we pursue technical solutions wherever possible. but we also pursue social and legal solutions

    and we also consider the magnitude of the crime: if someone does {XYZ} and it results in {ABC}, well if {XYZ} is a small easy and completely unnecessary effort (shine a laser) and {ABC} is a large serious effect (a blind pilot), then we have to do something about that. no, we have to do a lot of things about that. technical, social, AND legal

    but the idea that something is difficult to enforce, so we stop trying, is stupid. it doesn't matter how hard enforcement is. it matters that something has a large potential to harm and the person has no right and no good reason to do that thing. so we go after it and we punish it as best we can. no matter how hard

    this is the way of a just society. it has to be this way. people understand if justice is hard to do. they don't understand if no one is trying to pursue justice

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2012 @08:23PM (#41573071)

    If someone is an idiot and thinks it would be funny to shoot a gun into a crowd it's still attempted murder.

  • by Megane (129182) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @08:53PM (#41573249) Homepage
    There's a big difference between being punished for your own crime, and being punished for someone else's crime, whether or not that someone else is a blood relative.
  • Re:Good. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LordLimecat (1103839) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @09:00PM (#41573295)

    I have terrible news for you. Someone could walk into a room where you are on any particular day and kill you with a constitutionally protected firearm.

    This is a free country. A free society has dangers inherent in it. Deal with it.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LordLimecat (1103839) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @09:02PM (#41573319)

    Its already illegal to laser people in the face. His objection is pretty clearly to the idea that law abiding citizens should have fewer freedoms because we are for some bizarre reason unwilling to enforce the laws we have.

    The solution to murder isnt to make going outside illegal, its to prosecute murder. The solution to pilots getting lasered isnt some ridiculous attempt to control every class 3 laser out there, its to prosecute people who insist on lasering pilots.

  • The bar is lowered (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @09:31PM (#41573519) Homepage Journal

    You gotta really be a douchebag to point a laser at an aircraft. It's like dropping bricks off a highway overpass.

    What the fuck is wrong with people? It's not like these are delinquent kids doing this laser thing. We're talking full-grown people.

    It's a good thing my experience with the people in my life is nothing like the picture of humanity I see reflected by the media every day. Honey BooBoo Chile and The Apprentice and all that. If I really believed people were as messed up as the commercial media portrays, I might get depressed.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @09:35PM (#41573557) Homepage Journal

    Nice strawman. Murder or attempted murder requires mens rea. Most people who do this are not trying to kill anyone. They're just being idiots.

    Like dropping bricks off a freeway overpass.

    I bet there are at least 20 years worth of "reckless endangerment" and "interfering with air traffic" and other crimes. Is there such a thing as "attempted manslaughter"?

    "Just being an idiot" is not an excuse for putting peoples' lives at risk. Dude needs to look at losing one or two decades. It has to be enough time to deter.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bonehead (6382) on Saturday October 06, 2012 @11:02PM (#41574075)

    So then there should be no laws ever?

    I said no such thing.

    I wholeheartedly approve of this idiot doing prison time for shining a laser at a helicopter.

    I cannot conceive of a reason why this incident should prevent sane, responsible people from purchasing, owning, and using a laser if they have a need and/or desire to do so.

    It was the malicious action that was the problem here, not the object used to carry it out.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bonehead (6382) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @12:15AM (#41574391)

    Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my face. Your freedom shine a laser ends at my eyes.

    I agree with that 100%.

    What I don't agree with is being forced to have my hands amputated just because having hands would allow me to punch you in the face if I ever felt provoked to do so.

    And, yes, I would rather take the risk that you might someday punch me in the face than to have you undergo involuntary hand amputation, as well.

    The law should deal with actions that people have taken. Not actions that they "could" take.

  • by MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) <myfirstnameispaul@gmail.com> on Sunday October 07, 2012 @12:37AM (#41574467) Homepage Journal

    I happen to live in an area where pilots regularly violate laws on altitude. IIRC, the law is 1000 feet above ground level in populated areas. My area is definitely *residential* as I am surround with at least 1000 other houses, though they are not close together as in a typical suburb, but clearly it falls under the regulations.

    I've been through this before: 1000 people are going to respond and say that I am wrong: it cannot be that these pilots choose to violate the law, but you have never been in a position to try and complain about these things, and I can assure you that unless you can afford a lawyer and a private investigator, there is nothing you can do about the pilots how regularly intrude on your space. I have called the FAA and every law enforcement body that I fall under and all I ever get, at best, is sent to someone's voicemail.

    Nobody cares at all about the slim minority of people who are regularly intruded upon by these assholes. The helicopters fly sometimes within 100 feet my house, barely skimming the treetops, and from inside the house everything is shaking. These are the biggest, richest assholes of them all - they are flying to their second home or third or 50th home and could give a shit about being inconvenience to spend the time to ascend and then descend. The next ones are the pilots is small planes. These guys don't vibrate the house, but they are VERY loud and the pitch of the engine and extremely annoying.

    In some areas it is even worse with the problem of helicopters, and what I wonder is if these residents who are lasering these pilots do it out of anger for not being able to do anything else about the violations. I do empathize with their position, but violence is not the solution for me. I'd be willing to bet that as more people learn about this cheap method of encouraging pilots to fly elsewhere, the more of the asshole pilots will get lasered. I'm saying it's right, but frankly, they should be flying at higher altitudes.

  • facts? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swell (195815) <jabberwock@@@poetic...com> on Sunday October 07, 2012 @12:49AM (#41574517)

    Wow. Dramatic video of catching a perpetrator. And interesting representation of what a laser hit looks like in a helicopter. It's so easy to become captivated by a video even if it has no relevance.

    How many tragedies have resulted from these thousands of incidents?

    If I can just learn if there were 5 or 50 or 500 fatalities resulting from laser strikes, then I will be better able to weigh the significance of the problem. I'm pretty sure that is what elected officials will be asking.

    Each year a certain number of people die from drowning in their bathtub. A few die from shark attacks. Some, including celebrities, die from erotic asphyxiation (hah! I speled that rite on the frist tri!). Legislators have to decide where is the most effective place to put their limited funds and protect people from a dangerous world.

  • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @12:59AM (#41574557)

    It's not just him though.

    You are arguing that it's just this guy.

    There are *thousands* of idiots doing this.

    Down in Virginia Beach, people shine them from their hotel balconies at incoming jets.

    Because they think it's cool.

    5 years ago, I held the same belief that you have. I thought the Australia laws were nuts. I no longer believe so.

    --
    BMO

  • Re:What now? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @01:52AM (#41574751) Homepage

    the light will have spread to a six foot radius.

    The ability of lasers to do interesting things is based on the concentration of the beam. Spread a watt or two over a six foot radius and it is not very strong. It is something less than a shop light with twin four foot T8's shining on a white door. Not enough to blind.

    it scatters which illuminates the entire cockpit with a rather blinding light.

    It may split the beam into a few beams, each of which are powerful enough to blind, assuming the beam has not already spread to a harmless radius, but it cannot "illuminate the entire cockpit with a rather blinding light." You still have to hit the pupil with a healthy percentage of the original beam.

    Colorful stories from overzealous policemen aside, the physics simply do not support the claim of filling the cockpit with blinding light. Pointing lasers at airplanes is dangerous and is a crime for good reason, but lasers are not magical death beams.

  • by Killall -9 Bash (622952) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @02:03AM (#41574805)
    They fight forest fires with fire, dumbshit. Burned grass doesn't burn.
  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @05:23AM (#41575477)

    Hit the bottle. They really are.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @05:32AM (#41575513) Journal

    But there are really two kind of people. Those who aim a laser at an aircraft, and those who don't.

    Those who do think that EVERYONE does it, that is their defence and they think EVERYONE else is also stupid enough not to realize their possible consequences of their actions. But this group, while small is not just near insane, they are also VERY VERY LOUD.

    So in every discussion, they shout out about their actions and make the rest think that apparently it is normal after all to be an asshole. It isn't. Their favorite battle cry is "have you never been a teenager and did something stupid".

    Honest answer for the majority: "No I haven't".

    Proof? If all of us REALLY did it, the world would be a hell hole. Take something as simple as speeding, if it was really something all of us did all the time, then there would be a LOT more traffic tickets. It is a small percentage that speeds all the time that accounts for the number of traffic tickets. You can drive on the highway yourself and see that the majority are following the speed limit.

    Same with tying cans to cats. NOBODY does this, except a few sociopaths who then shout out about it making the world think this is normal behavior. It isn't.

    It even has more serious consequences, part of women's lib wanted women to have the same sexual freedom men had. But did men, the majority of men really have that much sexual freedom? If men could sleep around, they needed women to do that with, so logically, the rates are the same on both sides. Yet there is a generation where you had some women jealous of men's freedom to have multiple partners while for most men, this simply ain't the case at all.

    Check for yourself, have you ever increased the number of female sexual partners in conversation?

    Right, because we believe the "media" story of the few to be the norm. If a hollywood star has a thousand girls, then so must everyone else. Nope, sorry.

    We got to stop treating the freaks of our society as normal. Shining a laser at an aircraft is not normal. It ain't fun, it ain't harmless, it ain't something any normal person has any reason or desire to do.

    Que the loud sociopaths protesting that they are normal after all: GO!

  • by cshay (79326) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @09:39AM (#41576269)

    Am I the only one who noticed that video is timestamped April 2010 while the arrest this story is talking about happened in 2007? Sheesh.

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