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FAA Device Rules Illustrate the Folly of a Regulated Internet 449

First time accepted submitter cathyreisenwitz writes "The New York Times' Bits blog has a great piece on the FAA's inconvenient, outdated and unhelpful rules regarding electronic devices on planes: 'Dealing with the F.A.A. on this topic is like arguing with a stubborn teenager. The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims, spreading irrational fear among millions of fliers.' The rules illustrate why we shouldn't let the government regulate the internet: Government regulations are nearly always outdated and too cautious."
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FAA Device Rules Illustrate the Folly of a Regulated Internet

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  • Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:16PM (#42434831) Journal
    Imagine if the avionics industry wasn't regulated?
  • ...this is kind of like saying "Since this one agency is finicky about technology, government regulation is ineffective and outdated. As such, the government shouldn't regulate medicine!"
  • Unhelpful article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plover ( 150551 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:23PM (#42434903) Homepage Journal

    The blog uses a lot of charged words without saying anything of value. "Rules bad. Regulations bad. FAA dumb." And somehow this translates directly into "regulating the Internet is doomed to fail."

    First, I completely disagree with the "FAA dumb" comment. The FAA may be cautious, yes, but their mandate is aircraft safety -- it's their job to be cautious. I don't disagree with the other sentiments, but there is no logical argument put forth that explains why the rules are bad, why the regulations fail, or why the approach taken by an agency whose job is human safety (and not human convenience) will somehow doom the internet.

  • by stox ( 131684 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:24PM (#42434907) Homepage

    There has to be proof that such devices CAN'T harm a plane's avionics. Once that is done, we'll be able to play with our toys.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:25PM (#42434925)

    The article links to "The Anarcho-capitalism Blog", which links to a NY Times article that has fuckall to do with Internet regulation.

    Just another symptom of Slashdot going downhill. The editors don't mind trolling, and a bunch of teenage anarchists in the commentariat just eat this stuff up.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:30PM (#42434991)

    Liberty ALWAYS comes first.

    ... he says as the TSA agent slips on that rubber glove.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:30PM (#42435001)

    The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics

    That is not how it work is aviation. The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.
    Don't like it ? change the rules, but then those rules apply to everyone and everything involved in aviation, not only consumer electronic devices.

    If the FAA really thinks iPads, cellphones, and other devices are harmful or could be harmful, then they should treat them as such and require that the devices be stored in an RF shielded container, or that batteries be removed and held by the flight crew until it's safe to turn them back on.

    The power button on my cell phone is easily pressed by accident when I stuff it in my carryon bag, so more times than not, it's turned itself on at some point after I put it in the bag. I'm sure there are dozens of cell phones on every flight tucked away in checked and carryon bags that are powered on. Ironically, if I was allowed to hold the phone in my hands during takeoff, it would not accidentally turn on. (yes, I know my 4 ounce phone could become a hazardous projectile in an emergency, but so could the 24 ounce hardback book my seatmate is reading)

    If the FAA really thinks the devices may be harmful, they should treat them as harmful devices, instead of just looking the other way and ignoring them even though they know that the devices *are* in use during all phases of flight.

    It's kind of like how the TSA makes people discard drinks and other liquids before going through security since they could be explosives or hazardous explosive components, yet the trash is not treated as the hazardous waste they suspect it is. If they really think that the liquids may be hazardous, then they should treat them as hazardous waste - why would they let the janitor haul out a bin full of suspected explosives?

  • It's called CYA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alen ( 225700 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:32PM (#42435013)

    Cover your ass

    I learned about it in high school

    The whiners are whining now but if there is an accident and the smallest shed of a hypothesis that someone's iPhone or droid caused the crash during takeoff or landing the same media and whiners will be calling for everyone to be fired for allowing it

  • Re:Pilots... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:38PM (#42435101) Homepage

    Because with the flight crew you're dealing with a limited number of devices and a limited amount of potential RF interference. Extend that to passengers and you have not just 1-2 but possibly a hundred or more devices simultaneously, and that can have a drastically different effect on the avionics.

    If I pour a gallon of water into a standard rowboat on a lake, it's not going to sink. If I pour another gallon of water in, it's still not going to sink. 2 gallons just isn't enough to cause a problem. even 5-6 gallons isn't. But if I pour a couple hundred gallons in, it's going to sink. I can't go "Well, adding another gallon didn't make a difference, so adding another gallon more won't either." indefinitely. At some point you reach the straw that broke the camel's back. When reaching that point can potentially get 200 or so people killed as the plane stops flying, I'd really rather we avoided going there.

  • by Enry ( 630 ) <enry@wayga.QUOTEnet minus punct> on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:40PM (#42435119) Journal

    AT&T was convinced that circuit switching (rather than packet switching) was the way to go. It took DARPA (you know, the government) years to convince them otherwise, in some cases going behind their backs to do so. They also spent decades telling people that only AT&T equipment can be installed in their homes, and there's no way you can use your own phone since it may damage their circuitry.

    Don't think that only government comes up with crappy rules.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:41PM (#42435133)

    The Internet is quite different from flying airplanes, medicine, building cars, running large factories etc.
    All those activities are high risk and at the same time there are big incentive to cut corners (after all those crash test dummies are not free...).
    On the other hand, there are very few ways that the internet can kill you. So there is very little reason to create regulations for the internet as it is mostly harmless (even though some people blame suicides, purchase of fake medications and other physical world problems on the internet).
    So it seems to be that your medicine analogy is quite flawed.

  • backwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:43PM (#42435157) Homepage Journal

    I think you got that backwards.

    The FAA does not have to prove that mobile devices endanger aircraft electronics. Those whose manufacture or those who want to use those devices on a plane need to prove that it doesn't.

    Yes, I know that some people get a heart attack if they can't check their e-mail, FB and Twitter for 20 seconds, but last time I checked, we all agree that "default deny" is the proper firewall policy. So with all security systems. If you don't know something is harmless, you need to treat it as a potential danger, until it is proven to be safe.

    And when a mistake can kill a few hundred people, you err on the side of caution. Always.

  • by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:45PM (#42435177) Homepage

    Liberty doesn't always come first. Liberty gets balanced all the time against other interests. There wouldn't be FAA regulation of what goes on between private ticket holders and private airlines at all if liberty always came first. They would just leave it up to the airlines. The airlines don't want that though, because they don't want ultimate responsibility they want shared responsibility.

    The FAA is way too cautious about safety in a rational universe. But note that every time a plane goes down and few hundred people die it makes national news, often for several days. Which means the public weighs flight deaths much more heavily than deaths from heart attack or car accidents or poor nutrition. We live in a representative democracy and the FAA is irrational because the public is.

  • by Citizen of Earth ( 569446 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:54PM (#42435245)

    That is not how it work is aviation. The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.

    It has been proven. Consider that 90% of flyers have a cell phone and 20% of them on every flight either forget to or refuse to turn off their transmission functions. (It's not like the stewards actually check this.) So, we have millions of experiments every year and not one single adverse effect. I doubt many other flight-safety regulations receive this level of testing.

  • by cusco ( 717999 ) <> on Monday December 31, 2012 @04:30PM (#42435619)
    On an even larger scale, look at the effect of the privatization of the military. When I was in high school ('70s) guys would go into the Army and when they got out they would at least know how to maintain a jeep, type, fix electronics, or drive a bulldozer. Hell, even Beetle Bailey did enough KP to work in a restaurant when he got out. Today all that's done by subcontractors that cost 5-20 times as much as having the grunts do it, and at the end of their service the only training the ex-soldiers have is how to kill people.
  • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Monday December 31, 2012 @07:01PM (#42436995) Homepage Journal

    They don't think that wireless devices will interfere with the plane, they just don't have proof that they won't. Getting proof isn't as simple as just taking a few random devices on an aircraft and seeing if it still works, they have to check that there are no subtle errors introduced into instruments or problems with high power non-FCC approved devices bought overseas. It is paranoid, but the public seems to demand paranoid when it comes to aircraft.

  • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @09:43PM (#42438101)

    I'm a retired military pilot currently employed in the military industrial complex. I call BS. All it requires is standards and a standards based certification process. You determine how much RFI the airplane can take (which I imagine is quite a bit considering it has to operate in close proximity to all kinds of high powered RF transmitters) and then you establish a standard that is some fraction of that (half/third). You then require certification as "FAA APPROVED". Manufacturers would be falling all over themselves to get certified and get the "FAA" sticker on the box. Throw your iPad in an anechoic chamber and figure out what the emissions are.

    This ain't rocket science, however the FAA has the "You never know" safety mindset. The risk management decision for them is "does the benefit outweigh the risk? To the FAA, the benefit of allowing liberal use of electronics is zero, so unless the risk can also be proven to be zero, it is impossible to outweigh the risk (no matter how small). That type of thinking is often desirable in a high risk, high consequence business like aviation, however taken to extreme it drives out common sense and logical risk management.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser