Mobile plane ban protects us from terrorists - FBI

The unfriendly skies

The FBI is objecting to plans to relax the current ban on the use of mobile phones on planes. In a joint submission with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI says that unless carriers set up systems to allow law enforcement to wiretap phones owned by designated people then the proposals open up a loophole that might be exploited by terrorists.

Concerns about interference with avionic systems have meant cell phones have been banned on US commercial flights for over a decade. Recent advances in technology have allowed the use of Wi-Fi networks on airlines prompting air regulators to look ahead to a time when tight rules governing the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices can be relaxed. One approach would be to house a "pico cell" inside airlines to allow access to voice calls using a regular mobile instead of only through satellite phones.

The Feds strenuously oppose any such plan. "The proposal raises not only regulatory and technical/operational issues, but also important public safety and national security issues, their submission argues. The Feds want airlines to satisfy a lengthy list of eavesdropping requirements as stipulated in the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to satisfy their objections.

Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told C/Net that the Feds had come up with a "wish list" that exceeds rules established by CALEA. "If the FBI succeeds in this context, what's to stop them from getting more wiretapping powers than they currently do in other contexts?" ®

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