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US Says Plane Finder App Threatens Security 524

ProgramErgoSum writes "The Plane Finder AR application, developed by a British firm for the Apple iPhone and Google's Android, allows users to point their phone at the sky and see the position, height and speed of nearby aircraft. It also shows the airline, flight number, departure point, destination and even the likely course-the features which could be used to target an aircraft with a surface-to-air missile, or to direct another plane on to a collision course, the 'Daily Mail' reported. The program, sold for just 1.79 pounds in the online Apple store, has now been labelled an 'aid to terrorists' by security experts and the US Department of Homeland Security is also examining how to protect airliners. The new application works by intercepting the so-called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcasts (ADS-B) transmitted by most passenger aircraft to a new satellite tracking system that supplements or, in some countries, replaces radar."
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US Says Plane Finder App Threatens Security

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  • by Entropius ( 188861 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @04:25PM (#33778466)

    The intent behind it does, really.

    The whole "well-regulated militia" bit likely intends to give citizens the right to be sufficiently well-armed to constitute a significant military force -- that's what a militia is. At the time, that consisted of rifles and pistols, but any modern significant military force would necessarily include RPG's, MANPADS, and the like.

    If you really want the Second Amendment to mean what it originally was intended to mean, then yes -- private ownership of these weapons is Constitutionally guaranteed. I don't think this is a good idea, but this position requires changing the meaning of the 2nd.

  • You read the post! Put your blindfold back on, you terr'rist!

    Seriously, people already don't want to fly, and who can blame them? China has the right idea with their new record-breaking high-speed trains. And for trans-ocean voyages, a slow cruise is more pleasant anyway - or just teleconference. It's not like we don't have the technology.

    In a backwards way, the terrorists are actually helping to make the planet a bit greener, except that the US military is the world's single largest user of fossil fuels. And no, this is in no way a criticism of the military - they're under civilian leadership and have to suck it up even when the boss is an idjit, just like the rest of us.

    -- Barbie

  • Re:Already done? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 03, 2010 @04:44PM (#33778654)

    Its different because the data fed to flightstats is delayed for exactly this sort of reason. The app developers are intercepting identifying signals transmitted directly by the airplanes closing the gap between real-time and that delayed by a government-mandated time period. I'm an airplane geek so I would love an app like this. In the meantime, I'm stuck decoding ACARS transmissions with my laptop. I love watching planes take off over my house and have pictures of the plane get automatically downloaded from Way cool.

  • But how is that fair to those that actually followed the law and came here legally? And you are also ignoring the hidden costs, for example we too have many illegals and if you get into an accident with one? NO insurance! I hope you enjoy those higher insurance premiums thanks to your friends that "are ordinary people who just want a chance to live". Then figure in the taxes they don't pay, the depression of wages, and the extra demands on services without the extra taxes to pay for them and I'm sorry, but if you want to get into this country you should have to get in line like everybody else. Oh and talk to someone who immigrated here legally and ask them how they like having spent years jumping through hoops just to have talk of amnesty for illegals brought up. Not a subject to bring up if you want happy talk.
  • by Drathos ( 1092 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @05:00PM (#33778802)

    Actually, the fact that they are illegal aliens makes them all criminals. There are legal methods of entering the country. They may be obeying all other laws, but they are still breaking the law.

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @05:04PM (#33778850)
    Unfortunately you're correct. Strictly speaking the interpretation that people use is kind of odd. It allows people to have a right to firearms that have no involvement in any sort of militia regulated or otherwise. But by the same token it restricts the kind of weaponry that it would actually require to fulfill the intent of that amendment.

    And realistically, the 2nd amendment really ought to be updated to provide people with the right to secure communications.
  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @05:07PM (#33778880) Homepage Journal

    OMG, I'll save you some money [], not even terrorist should go broke on their quests.

  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @05:29PM (#33779006) Homepage

    The relevant question is not "what would shock the founders" -- hell, a country where you can't keep slaves anymore would be a shock to many of them.

    Well, the Constitution did have to be amended to ban slavery. Don't get me wrong - I hate slavery with a passion, but it was the law of the land, and the founders clearly intended for it to be the law of the land.

    When you think about it, individuals owning guns has always been fairly well-correlated with freedom.

    Feudalism was very oppressive, and its power derived from the expense of equipping soldiers. An effective military force required a horse (a specialized breed not useful for farming/etc), and all kinds of armor and gear. It also required a squad of support personnel for every knight (to maintain all that gear, and carry it around - it isn't like the knight hiked across Europe in plate and they didn't ride war horses around either).

    When guns came out, it changed everything. Now a poor man could be issued a relatively inexpensive musket and they were as powerful as anything the enemy could field short of a siege weapon. The siege weapons themselves weren't all that expensive either - you didn't need many of them and they didn't require feeding like war horses/etc, and they didn't have to be built to fit a particular man like armor. Nobody needed armor, since armor was useless anyway. Guns democratized warfare, and the nobility vanished.

    In theory modern weapons carry this even further, except that nobody is allowed to own inexpensive but effective weapons like RPGs/etc. So, power is becoming more concentrated among those who are allowed to own weapons. On the other hand, when needed anybody who controls the police could quickly equip at least a 3rd-world grade army inexpensively.

    Now, the flip side to all of this is that more powerful weapons also greatly increase the amount of damage a single nutcase can do to the rest of society. In the middle ages a guy with a sword couldn't really do more than slash up a few people at church or something before being overcome. Even a guy with a barrel of black powder could only do so much since there wasn't anything big to blow up that wasn't also made to withstand siege. Today, just about anybody can get their hands on enough armament to wreak quite a bit of havoc - to the point where now nuclear proliferation is becoming a big concern.

    I'm not sure what the solution is - to some extent the genie is out of the bottle. However, I'm not convinced that giving every redneck a howitzer and a MANPAD is going to make things better. Certainly that would make me think twice about flying...

  • by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @05:36PM (#33779062) Homepage Journal

    I don't want to fly commercial any more, and it's not due to fear of ter'rists. It's out of anger that my government is not approaching this scientifically. They are ignoring forensic science and not profiling, out of fear of offending foreign nationals. Because they refuse to profile, I have to check luggage rather than carry it on (I usually bring tools with me), I can't bring bottle water or soup on the aircraft with me, and am stuck eating airplane food - which invariably makes me sick due to allergies. (They prohibit peanuts due to political correctness now, but every damn airplane snack and meal has soy in it. Go figure.)

    Sooo, I drive whenever possible instead, and I will continue to drive long trips until I can earn a flight certificate and buy (or build) my own airplane. :)

    Of course Homeland Security wants GA dead as well so in a few years even that may not be an option.

  • by History's Coming To ( 1059484 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @06:00PM (#33779232) Journal
    Bit less than that my friend!

    The UK developed an air-to-ship missile during WWII that was (and I shit you not) pigeon guided.

    Pigeons were shown silhouettes of German battleships and rewarded with food whenever they pecked on them. Then pigeons were mounted in the transparent nose of a glide missile. There was a glass panel in front of them connected to actuators, so if the ship was off to the left the pigeon would peck on the glass and the missile would turn left.

    Absolute genius. I don't know if it was ever used in anger, but the theory is sound.
  • Re:OMG (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CowboyBob500 ( 580695 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @06:08PM (#33779296) Homepage
    I think it was Russell Howard [] who said - "The Daily Mail, racist in public so you don't have to be". That about sums it up really.
  • More likely concern (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Voline ( 207517 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @06:10PM (#33779316)

    As many here have pointed out, it's absurd to think that this app would be useful for a terrorist who has the resources to obtain a surface to air missile. If you're going to shoot down a civilian plane, do you really need to know the flight number? Or do you just pick the one you see above you?

    A more likely concern is that the device can be used to reveal government misconduct. It was hobbyist plane-spotters who, through their observations of civilian air traffic, exposed the CIA's Torture Jet flights [] or "extraordinary renditions", wherein they kidnapped people abroad and transferred them to third countries [] like Egypt, Jordan and Uzbekistan for interrogation using tortures that even the CIA wouldn't use (I guess there still are some).

    If the choice is between ceasing their crimes against humanity, or trying to cover them up better: they prefer the latter strategy.

  • Re:Already done? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IICV ( 652597 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @06:12PM (#33779332)

    What's the point of encrypting these signals? I'm pretty certain you could derive enough of the information in them with a database of airline schedules, background knowledge of the routes airplanes take, and some on the spot information about the plane (which was was it heading? What time is it right now? What flights were delayed recently?) which is freely available stuff if you just crawl the airline websites. The airplanes only broadcast it to make things a bit easier for air traffic controllers; it's nothing a theoretical terrorist group couldn't figure out on their own.

    Also, you can count on the fingers of one head the number of times a commercial airplane has been shot down with a missile in the USA, so basically this is a non-problem.

  • by beej ( 82035 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @06:14PM (#33779348) Homepage Journal

    Here's another idea: how about preventing the crimes that are already happening in this country!

    Wait--was the original story about, again?

  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @07:15PM (#33779732) Homepage

    They are unfilled because if I offer you a job picking melons for $2 a hour you would laugh and stay on unemployment.

    If I offer Jose with no papers $2 a hour to pick melons he says "Si" because it is twice what he could make back home. He can then send half his income back home and it is like he never left - except he isn't eating there anymore so they are much better off.

    There is no way legal Americans are going to compete with that kind of labor. It distorts our entire economy and pushes things in very strange directions. It also means that no matter what, Jose is digging into a hole he will never get out of.

    The solution is to remove the cheap labor from the equation completely. Get them the heck out of the country. Make it a crime to employ an undocumented worker. Make it a crime to pay someone less than minimum wage, or better yet, a crime to pay someone less than fair market wages. Start putting employers in prison for 10 years because they have 100 illegal workers and you will see some changes. Until then, well I hope you like unemployment because nobody in their right mind is going to hire someone for more than they have to pay some undocumented worker.

    That means that just about every job in the US is at risk if it involved unskilled labor.

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @07:56PM (#33779974) Homepage

    And where does the 2nd amendment say that?

    The Constitution implicitly assumes the private ownership of warships (see 'letters of marque and reprisal'), so the idea that the founders would have been shocked by private ownership of crew-served weapons seems rather silly.

    Personally, I'm more for the spirit interpretation of the 2nd. The goal of the 2nd, in the eyes of the guys who had just overthrown the official government, was that The People should have enough firepower to take down the government if necessary. To me, handguns, rifles, shotguns, and IEDs are sufficient for that -- as long as we take the 1st seriously and are vigilant against abuses to the 4th through 6th.

    Now, about the 1st and vigilance, well, we may have a problem there...

  • Re:It's bad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by raodin ( 708903 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @08:46PM (#33780248)

    I'm not sure I can think of anything less stealthy than a commercial airliner, really. They're huge, noisy, and covered in running lights. The only use I can think of for this app for a hypothetical terrorist is to identify a particular aircraft, but we are talking about terrorists here. They typically aren't known for their choosiness in civilian targets. The point is to scare a population by killing a large chunk of largely random people, after all. Binoculars would suffice to target a particular aircraft type or airline, if they're already in range for a shoulder launched SAM, anyway.

  • by shermo ( 1284310 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @10:44PM (#33780770)

    Plus I've heard a few horror stories. Friends in Australia pay extra when coming to Canada just so they can avoid landing in the US. Not because they're terrorists or on any watch list or "look ethnic", but because they simply don't want the hassles at the end of a long flight.

    Been there - I went through Vancouver instead of LA :)

    A few hundred dollars vs having to negotiate LAX and the end of a long trip overseas. No brainer really. Especially now they're charging for the visa waiver programme. The fee is nominal, I presume the real purpose is to get your credit card details.

  • by modecx ( 130548 ) on Monday October 04, 2010 @01:02AM (#33781578)

    Hate to reply to myself... But I had to add this:

    The fact is, in a direct way, current law does in fact require males of the 17-45 age bracket to own at least a basic weapon applicable to modern military service. In other words: Evil. Scary. Black rifles. Preferably Automatic.

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...