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The Courts Government Toys United States News

Laser Painting Could Lead to 25-Year Prison Term 1615

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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  • ummm.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:04PM (#11267169)
    link to the usatoday story, please?
    • Re:ummm.... (Score:5, Informative)

      by dmauro ( 742353 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:06PM (#11267209)
    • 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.

      • 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.
      • 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.
  • RTFA? (Score:4, Funny)

    by defMan ( 175410 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:05PM (#11267180)
    I know we don't read the articles but to stop linking to them is not making it easier.

  • RTFA (Score:3, Funny)

    by justforaday ( 560408 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:05PM (#11267185)
    For once, everyone will have an excuse for not RTFA.
  • RTFM (Score:4, Informative)

    by fembots ( 753724 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:05PM (#11267194) Homepage
    here [usatoday.com]
    • Re:RTFM (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dr Caleb ( 121505 )
      RTFM? What Fucking Manual?

      Thanks for the link BTW.

    • Re:RTFM (Score:3, Funny)

      After being taken to an FBI office and given a lie-detector test, Banach said he had hit the jet with the beam, court documents say.

      Ok, weird. I would like way, way more information than was provided in this sentence.

      During questioning by the FBI, Banach showed an agent his laser. After the agent switched it on, Banach warned him "not to shine the laser in his eyes because it could blind him," the court documents say.

  • by Kaimelar ( 121741 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:07PM (#11267219) Homepage
    Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.

    "Hmmm . . . new article on Slashdot, think I'll check the comments . . . Argggh! My eyes! I can't see anything!!"

  • by thegrommit ( 13025 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:07PM (#11267223)
    The slashdot story is missing the link [usatoday.com]. No comment about the editor who posted it.
    • The slashdot story is missing the link. No comment about the editor who posted it.

      Are you implying that they may be a missing link? Or just noting that it was from the "too-bright-therefore-not-so-bright" department editor?

      Eh. Errare humanum est.

  • by rlthomps-1 ( 545290 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:08PM (#11267256) Homepage
    I like how he lit up the police helicopter which led to his arrest. I mean, with all the flap about this, he HAD to know that police were looking for the guy doing it.

    I wonder if just finished a grand theft auto marathon before going to "look at the stars"
  • and I'm thinking wtf, the pro-collusion bent of American law is really getting out of hand here; now they're forcing people to buy overpriced ink cartridges?



  • 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
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:10PM (#11267287)
    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.
  • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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 twitter ( 104583 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:41PM (#11269703) Homepage Journal
      anyone who is flashing a laser pointer off at a POLICE HELICOPTER these days is obviously a complete idiot/jackass.

      Most people would agree with you, there, but what's not obvious is that the defendant is guilty. It's possible that what he says is true, the he and his daughter were out pointing a laser at trees and the sky when the FBI swooped in.

      There are two rights issues at stake here, libel and the banning of harmless devices. How would you like for your picture to be published by the USA Today online with a highly incriminating description? Fun, fun, fun online. Second, the whole thing may be a stupid stunt to get you to believe that laser pointers are dangerous and should be controlled like firearms. If distractions really were dangerous, there would be no billboards on public highways.

      It's garbage like this that shows how sorry mainstream media is. It's slanted and poorly researched but it has power due to self advertisement and a perception of proper editing. Understanding these issues is a critical part of your ability to defend your rights online.

  • 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 oliphaunt ( 124016 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:44PM (#11267907) Homepage
      We're basically now arresting and locking up stupid people. Maybe this is a good trend

      Only if we also castrate them so that they can't breed and make MORE stupid people. Locking people up is a bad idea in general, because you have to then worry about feeding them, sheltering them, etc. Wouldn't it be much better to just kill them outright?

      My solution to the prison problem in the US: Stop locking people up locally- instead just put up a big fence around Texas, and let's send all of our criminals there, like the British used to do with Australia. Give them NOTHING. Let them kill each other and steal from each other and defraud each other and shoot lasers at each other as much as they want- I would volunteer to sit on the other side of the fence and shoot anyone who tries to get across. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would proudly serve his country this way.

      And all the people who already live in Texas? Well, life's a bitch sometimes, ain't it? Stay on your side of the fence.

      After several generations, perhaps Texas could transform itself from the barren wasteland and breeding ground of theives and traitors that it is today into a nation of proud citizens, working for the good of the world, just like Australia. And if that doesn't work, we can just salt the earth, pave the whole state and use it as a parking lot for Mexico.

  • 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.

    • "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,

  • by jabber01 ( 225154 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:15PM (#11267384)
    There is precedent, albeit tenuous, that the only purpose of certain kinds of equipment, or even logic (DeCSS anyone), is to do unlawful and criminal things with it.

    Now, I'll grant that there are many reasons for owning laser pointers. Specifically, if you have a cat, it is a patented means of delivering exercise to the feline.

    However... With datamining, if you buy diesel fuel, fertilizer, and now a laser pointer, you can end up on a watch list which you could avoid if you did not buy a cat toy.
  • 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?

    • 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.
    • 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 NoData ( 9132 ) <_NoData_&yahoo,com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:18PM (#11267438)
    I have one of those cool ThinkGeek green laser pointers [thinkgeek.com] and it was kind of fun (and amusing for the kids) to take it out on a cloudy or foggy day and look at the neat laser beam. Even the ThinkGeek description advertises its use for skypointing while stargazing, which works even in the clear in very dark conditions. Now I'm scared to do either. God I love these times we live in.
  • Its impossible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lokni ( 531043 ) <reali100@chapman.COMMAedu minus punct> 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.
  • Salon published a letter to the editor [salon.com] today regarding their prior story about the potential for lasers being used to blind pilots. [salon.com] In the letter the physicist argues that to use a laser properly for this task would require expensive and large equipment, at least two men, and good site selection. Basically, much cheaper and deadlier weapons are available to the motivated terrorist than lasers. The article and letter in reply are worth a read... --M
  • 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.

  • by Sliptwixt ( 606116 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:23PM (#11267551)
    I can't always hit the toilet from a foot away, how the hell did this guy get a laser in the face of a pilot in a plane hundreds (thousands?) of feet in the air?
  • by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:27PM (#11267621)
    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.
  • 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 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 Jtheletter ( 686279 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:47PM (#11267960)
    First off, I did RTFA, and for those that didn't here's why a long prison sentence is warranted, whether it whould be for 25 years I will get to.

    The man who was arrested was caught because he shined the same green laser into the cockpit of a helicopter that was surveying the area to discover the origin of the laser that temporarily blinded the pilots of the airliner. They were able to find his location because of this, and incidentally he blamed the helicopter lasing on his daughter. So here we have not just poor judgement or a one-time prank, but a guy who was shining a very bright laser (according to article it was used to test fiber optic cables) at pretty much anything that flew overhead. If he had just done it once he likely would have never been caught and it could be written off as poor judgement.

    Because of this I think his sentence should be more than just a slap on the wrist, definitely some heavy fines, maybe a few years jail time depending on what motives they discover for his actions. However, if it turns out he was just a jerk, or an idiot, or whatever and wasn't trying to bring down aircraft, then the maximum 25 year sentence is definitely too long. What I fear is that to make an example of him and to stop others who seem to think lasing planes is a fun idea (reports from multiple other airports of similar events) is that the government will hit him with the max or near max penalty.

    I have to wonder, making examples of criminals or not, how some judges can justify these extreme jail sentences? The criminal learns his lesson for sure, but is effectively never given the chance to apply that lesson. In 25 years the man will be so old as to almost be ready for social security, and with a criminal record he'll be lucky if greeter at Walmart is even available to him. What the system has done now is taken an otherwise productive (granted rather stupid for his actions) member of society, burned a ton of taxpayer $$ on him for 25 years, then released him to be a further drain on the system.

    At what point will someone - the american people, congress, other judges - say enough is enough and start setting limits on jail sentences to times that make sense? If this guy is guilty of nothing more than the airline equivalent of chucking rocks over the freeway as a dumb prank then I'm pretty sure 5 to 10 years in the fed pen will be quite enough to ensure he doesn't shine a laser anywhere again. Even 5 years is a sizable chunk of someone's life, and prison is no fun place to spend it, plus getting one's life back on track after such a sentence will be hard enough. It's time to stop this "War on X" mentality that the justice system has taken and give non-violent offenders a chance to learn from their actions and apply those lessons in their lifetime instead of overcrowding prisons and sucking up taxpayer dollars.

    Anyway, this rant is mostly concerned with if this guy turns out to be just a beavis/butthead type who got his hands on a laser and gets the 25 yrs. If he gets a more appropriate sentence length, or if his actions were in fact malicious then I guess this rant is moot. But there seems to be a trend in our courts to just throw people away forever, which in the end really doesn't teach a very long lesson since those people never get out to tell others to not follow their example.

  • 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 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 YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:37PM (#11268779)
      Now make the grape move at 600 miles per hour.

      If its coming more or less directly towards you, the apparent velocity goes waay down. And aircraft on approach are not going 600. More like 250.

      You don't have to completley 'blind' them, as in burn out their retinas, to be very, very hazardous.
      You can try this yourself. Remove the brakes from your car. Drive at high speed, at night, on a crowded road.(Crowded, to simulate the workload of a pilot on approach). Have a friend shine a high power laser into your eyes for a few seconds. (Said friend will probably want to be on an overpass, rather than in the car with you.)
      If you live, repeat the exercise a few more times.

    • 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.
  • Patriot? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geoff lane ( 93738 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:18PM (#11268481)
    Has this daft law ever been used to deal with an actual, real, evil, acid-spitting terrorist? Ever?
  • by uberskyjock ( 846802 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:38PM (#11270886)
    and this is not an abstract mildly interesting issue of civil rights to me.

    First of all, let me say that all of the above posters who wonder "what the big deal is of a laser hitting the bottom of a plane when the cockpit window is on top" are uninformed. As a pilot on final approach, the only direction I cannot see is directly behind or directly under me, but I continuously scan every other segment of the sky. Especially at night I have to let my eyes pause for a moment on each section in order to discern relative motion, as a quick scan would not allow me to detect the characteristic red/green/white nav lights + strobe of a moving aircraft above the many lights (both stationary of all color, flashing, and more slowly moving ground vehicle) below the aircraft. So a fair amount of our time on final approach is spent gazing downward, since while descending that part of the sky represents the largest risk of collision hazard. This attentive watchfulness is of course an important part of what we do, and if while looking for aircraft below us both pilots are "temporarily blinded" or worse (depending on the type of laser used) we are obviously in a very scary situation.

    Secondly, this idea that pilots fly the approach on autopilot is misinformed. Yes, cruise flight and the initial segment of the approach are usually (but by no means always) performed with the assistance of an autopilot. However, the autopilot is routinely and often given manual commands in a terminal environment to comply with air traffic control instructions all the way up to the very last final intercept of the glideslope. So pilot incapacitation during any descending maneuver before that final segment poses a very real threat to people on the ground below the aircraft's path (a much larger area than the airport proper). Also, with the exception of some large airliners and very few corporate aircraft, most jets do not have autopilots approved for autolandings, so at some point during the last 200 to 1000 feet the pilot will hand fly the plane, adjusting the pitch attitude and simultaneously reducing thrust to make a smooth landing flare. This is not something I want to feel my way through without sight.

    There are many reasons to not use autopilot, some flights are also operational line checks where the pilot in command is being evaluated by a check airman who expects them to hand fly the plane to demonstrate proficiency. I often fly by hand both to keep my skills sharp as well as because it is enjoyable to have the responsiveness of a very powerful jet airplane at my fingers. There is satisfaction in rolling the plane onto a perfectly aligned final approach without the autopilot's assistance.

    As a group, professional pilot's take the safety of our passengers very seriously. We attend recurrent training continuously throughout our careers, and simulate almost every conceivable emergency that it is possible to contend with. However, some emergencies elude constructing nice pat standard operating procedures to deal with. Obviously if an aircraft comes apart in flight then all you can do is follow the arc of the individual parts toward the ground below. Likewise, becoming blind is a situation that we just can't train for.

    Finally, I've also noticed some posts recommending using some sort of film on the windshield that would protect the pilots. This is unlikely to happen soon for several reasons. I would love to hear that such a material exists that is effective over the many frequency ranges that could conceivably be used in a laser. But even if it did exist, each aircraft has a slightly different type of construction and would require a huge amount of research and development. The price would be astronomical. As an example, the windshield of a Learjet is nearly an inch thick, is comprised of multiple layers of various materials (including different types of plastic and acrylic and a layer of gold used to heat the windshield) which have been thoroughly tested for strength, compatibil
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @08:55PM (#11271054) Homepage
    This case reminds us that one should never talk to any federal law enforcement official without an attorney present. If you do, they can bring "lying to a federal official" charges. (18 U.S.C. 1001), as they've done in this case. This has become a common ploy of Federal law enforcement. If they can't prove anything real, they entrap people by interrogating them, and any change in the story during interrogation means a "lying to a federal official" charge. Then they use this to get a guilty plea on the original charge, so they get credit for a conviction. Or a deportation.

    This is relatively new. Until the 1990s, it was safe to talk to the FBI. But it no longer is.

    So just keep insisting that you want your lawyer present. And you have to be very clear about it. [aele.org] Courts have held that "I think I should talk to a lawyer" is not sufficient to invoke the 6th amendment right to counsel. You have to make an unambiguous statement.

    That's supposed to stop interrogation, but it doesn't always. Eventually, if you keep insisting, they usually give up and let you talk to a lawyer.

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"