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June 04, 2012

Banning VoIP on Flights: The TSA Today

By Julie Griffin, Contributing Writer

The U.S. may never fully recover from the effects of 9/11, but should we keep the same stringent flight policies in 2012?  Recent events reveal how this is a contentious issue. Last week, Hilary Clinton informed the press about how special operations are engaging in cyber warfare against al-Qaida, which could suggest that terrorist groups are evolving parallel to technology.

But last month when the CEO of Viber, Talmon Marco, got ejected from his flight for using his own VoIP app for smartphones, this raised questions about current flight regulations. A couple of months prior to this, a Sikh organization developed an app to identify TSA discrimination. And three days ago, former TSA official Kip Hawley, defended security screening on NBC Nightly News, warning us to remain privy to the potential “underwear bomb.”

Talmon Marco, Viber’s CEO and developer of the VoIP app for smartphones, is hardly the first person to be ejected from a flight for not complying with the technology protocol, but what makes this event different than say Alec Baldwin’s stubborn refusal to put up his game of Words with Friends, is that Delta officials admitted that the rule against using VoIP services on flights is not necessarily because they pose a security threat, but because they are annoying. Delta alleges that they have received numerous complaints from passengers about other passengers engaging in VoIP communication. This renders questions about how many other seemingly arbitrary airline rules are unrelated to safety or security.

Throughout the years, the TSA’s tenacity has often been the butt of jokes – as first seen with Ben Stiller’s character on Meet the Parents. Yet other people have felt especially victimized by the TSA, and have suspected the TSA of profiling people based on their particular race or religion. Needless to say, some people have found the TSA’s methods to be no laughing matter. The Sikh Coalition is one group that has felt that the TSA goes to greater measures in searching people based on their appearance, such as those who wear turbans, than other passengers. The coalition created an app that passengers can use in airports to record events in which they feel violated.

Kip Hawley, a former officer of the TSA, is a proponent of the TSA’s stringent methods of keeping tight security. A few days ago, Brian Williams (News - Alert) introduced him on NBC’s Nightly News as the guy “who made us put all our liquids in gels in little plastic baggies, among other things.” Williams also pointed out how Hawley thought that government officials that make statements about weakening al-Qaida is dangerous, to which Hawley responded that he was surprised that officials wouldn’t share his opinion that we want to catch terrorists off guard and that regardless if “the underwear bomb worked or not,” it’s procedures like taking off shoes, etc. that weaken the opportunities to bring bombs aboard flights.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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