Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Jason Fox, vice president for product development at in Manhattan, made use of Internet access on a recent flight. [If you do ANYTHING, or USE ANYTHING--you are a terrorist!]

Not Everyone Is Cheering as Wi-Fi Takes to the Air

Published: February 6, 2009

For all the annoyance of being crammed into an aluminum tube at 35,000 feet with a bunch of strangers, air travel has offered one benefit: the ability to tell bosses and colleagues, “I’ll be on a flight, so you won’t be able to reach me.”

So much for that excuse.

Wireless Internet service is starting to spread among airlines in the United States — Delta and American have installed it on more than a dozen planes each, and several other carriers are planning to test it.

For the airlines, always desperate for new sources of revenue, offering the service — about $10 for three hours and more for longer flights — was an easy call. And many passengers will cheer the development as an end to Web withdrawal.

But this new frill is hardly as benign as a bag of pretzels. It may be a new source of tension between passengers on packed planes. A flight attendants’ union has even expressed concern that terrorists could use it to plot attacks.

And there is the inescapable fact that one of the last places on earth to get away from it all can now be turned into a mobile office.

Brent Bigler, a financial planner living in Los Angeles, said he paid the $12.95 fee on a recent American Airlines flight to New York, and spent several hours reading e-mail and searching the Internet. When his plane was delayed, he was able to reach a friend to say he would be late for dinner.

Even so, Mr. Bigler said he worried about the downside.

“This could be the same thing as what happened with cellphones and BlackBerrys,” he said. “Once it’s cheap and ubiquitous, employers might expect employees to participate. I may feel guilty if it were a Monday and I napped or read and didn’t use the Internet to do work.”

Airline executives said they were aware that the new service had the potential to raise issues beyond the bottom line.

“We want to be respectful of the fact that an airplane is a public place,” said Ranjan Goswami, director of product development at Delta. “You’re in close intimacy with other passengers and the cabin crew.”

Delta has told its flight attendants to treat overly enthusiastic users of Wi-Fi — who might, say, forget to mute the volume on YouTube videos of skateboarding dogs — like people who imbibe too much. In other words, cut them off if they start bothering others around them.

“It’s just like alcohol,” Mr. Goswami said. “The flight attendants understand how to interact with that.”

But the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 55,000 employees at 20 airlines, though not Delta, views Wi-Fi as a potential threat to flight attendants’ ability to keep order in the cabin, said Corey Caldwell, a union spokeswoman.

“Our duties involve securing the safety of the cabin, not acting as censor police,” Ms. Caldwell said. “It just adds another layer of duties inside the cabin, which take away from the main requirement that flight attendants are on board for.”

Ms. Caldwell said the flight attendants’ union also feared that terrorists plotting a scheme on a plane could use Wi-Fi to communicate with one another on board and with conspirators on the ground.

“Right now, their ability to do that on board is limited,” she said. “But we can see an instance in which this becomes a potential threat.”

The Federal Aviation Administration currently bans use of cellphones aboard planes because they may interfere with a jet’s navigation system. But Wi-Fi, as most technophiles know, offers a way around that ban, since the wireless connections can be used to tap into Skype and other programs that offer telephone service via a computer.

Clarel Thevenot, vice president for sales at Xtellus of Jersey City, said that during a flight from Stockholm he donned a headset with a microphone to call a friend in Paris. “I made the call brief and pretty much said, ‘I’m at 35,000 feet and I’m calling you,’ ” Mr. Thevenot said.

Both airlines are using Wi-Fi service provided by Aircell. For now, American is offering its service on 15 Boeing 767 jets, said September Wade, a spokeswoman. If the test is successful, American will consider offering the service on its entire domestic fleet, but it has not decided yet whether to do so.

On Delta, service is $9.95 for a flight of three hours or less, $12.95 for a longer flight. United States carriers do not yet offer the service on their international flights, although Delta is exploring it.

If all 150 passengers on a typical domestic flight were to buy three hours of time, that would mean an extra $1,500 or so in revenue per trip — equal to selling several extra seats per flight. Delta said its service was too new to accurately gauge its popularity, and American would not say how many travelers were using the service.

By offering the service, airlines in the United States are catching up to many foreign carriers, like Lufthansa, which has offered the service for the past several years.

Travelers who have used it say the service works well for video clip sites like YouTube, although it isn’t quite fast enough for streaming live events or television programs. They say, however, there is enough bandwidth to download a TV show from iTunes and watch it afterward.

“The name of the game is to give customers choices, and let them vote for their own desire,” said Mr. Goswami of Delta, which plans to have Wi-Fi available on 330 planes by the end of 2009.

Mr. Goswami said the airline will keep track of how customers use the Wi-Fi technology, then decide whether to set limits on how customers can use the Internet. Airlines can and do block access to pornography sites, for example, and Delta, like American, is blocking access to sites that offer Internet voice services.

“A lot of it will be self-policing,” Mr. Goswami said. “If you’re not aware of it, your seatmate will make you aware.”

But rather than fighting with their seatmates, more travelers will probably be wrestling with themselves about whether to use the service. After all, guilt is common in today’s pressure-filled workplaces, said Gayle E. Porter, professor of management at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J.

“We want excuses to relax instead of making a conscious decision to relax,” Ms. Porter said. “We don’t want to put ourselves in the position of saying, ‘That’s my choice.’ ”

Michael Gross, an author who lives in New York, said he, too, had mixed feelings about the availability of Wi-Fi on planes, although he has used it to send e-mail messages and write a post on his blog. “One of the great things about getting on an airplane,” he said, “is that it’s life out of time.”

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U.S. Cities Vulnerable to Mumbai-Like Attacks, Experts Say

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By Sandra I. Erwin

U.S. cities might be “partially vulnerable” to Mumbai-like attacks, said a recent study.

One reason is that hotels and other public building are largely unprotected. Another potential weakness is a command-and-control structure that would prevent local authorities from being able to take immediate action, said Jeffrey K. Beatty, anti-terrorism expert and special advisor to TSSI, a security services firm.

In November 2008, a Pakistani based militant organization, possibly with the aid of Indian militants, infiltrated Mumbai by sea and attacked landmarks in the city.

The assailants used small arms fire along with grenades and bombs, which left 179 dead and more than 300 wounded. According to a TSSI study, it appears the attackers were using drugs to stay awake, which enabled them to carry out their mission with fewer men.

“The same group is believed capable of operations within the United States,” said the TSSI study. “The vulnerable sectors in the U.S. are the hotels and other public locations.”

The remedy, suggests TSSI, is to upgrade hotel and public sector action plans and integrate them with law enforcement responses as has been done in cities such as New York and Las Vegas.

The good news, said Beatty, is that since the massacre at Columbine High School, many U.S. cities have done at least some training in handling “active shooter” incidents. “Where the disconnect is likely to come is in the command and control,” he added. “We have to empower local law enforcement to take immediate action. The longer the incident drags on, the more casualties you have.”

The terrorists in Mumbai deployed in groups of two. A group of three or four police officers should have been able to take out two terrorists, he noted.

Another lesson is that port security measures should be expanded, he said. “Port security in the U.S. up until this point has been heavily focused on large oceangoing container vessels. What we learned from Mumbai is that any pleasure or fishing boat could unload terrorists.”

But it’s important to realize that Mumbai was an example of urban terrorism, not a maritime operation, he added. “They could have come in the back of a truck, commercial air, on a parachute. The maritime aspect is only the infiltration phase.”

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Chinese Firm Hawking Eavesdropping Systems

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By Stew Magnuson and Matthew Rusling

The state-owned Chinese electronics giant CETC International Co. Ltd. wants to break into the homeland security market with a variety of products that only Big Brother could love.

At the recent IDEX conference in Abu Dhabi, the firm was selling many recognizable items — everything from roadside bomb jamming devices to airport trace explosive detectors.

But the CETC catalog distributed at the conference touted wares that veered into the “public security” realm, such as the WIS-30 wireless interception system that is “specifically designed for law enforcement, military, and government personnel and agencies to intercept, record, decode, analyze and exploit … wireless Internet traffic.”

The telephone voice recording system “can intercept and record voice signals being transmitted on various telephone lines.” Not only can the wiretapping device be used by law enforcement, it’s perfect for “financial institutions, airports and customer service departments of various businesses,” the literature reveals.

The GSM mobile communications monitoring system can intercept the conversations and text messages of mobile phone users as well as locate and track their whereabouts.

“The system is usually mounted onboard a van so that it can be deployed at any location when required,” the catalog states.

CETC in January inked a deal to set up a joint information and electronics complex in Pakistan, according to reports in the Pakistani press.;topicseen

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