In-Flight Wi-Fi: Security Threat?

An article in this month’s Infotech & Telecom News on a TSA proposal to ban in-flight wi-fi quotes me at length. Here’s what I had to say:

“Are such restrictions justified? No,” said Ryan Young, the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “The only way to prevent terrorism is to make terrorism difficult.

“Banning in-flight entertainment would not do that,” he added. “Terrorism is a rare threat, and it should be treated accordingly. Every time you board a plane, your odds of being a victim of a terrorist attack are about 1 in 10.4 million. You are 20 times more likely to be struck by lightning,”

‘Chipping Away at Freedoms’

“Terrorists can’t win by killing people,” Young said. “There are too many of us and too few of them. They win by making us overreact in fear. And that is exactly what the TSA is doing.

“Chipping away at freedoms like in-flight wi-fi might make people feel safer. But it doesn’t actually make them safer,” he said. “The TSA should make sure that all cockpit doors are reinforced. It should diligently screen checked baggage. Passengers know that sometimes they have to take matters into their own hands. Anything beyond that isn’t security. It’s security theater.”

Dangerous Driving
Young adds TSA’s reaction to the Christmas Day bomber and other potential threats could not just stifle tech innovation but also harm the ability of the airline market to improve its services.

“Banning in-flight wi-fi would hurt both the airline industry and technology companies,” Young said. “Some airlines, such as JetBlue, compete by offering fringe benefits that competitors don’t, like in-air wi-fi. Taking that away would make the airline market more homogeneous and less competitive.

“Banning in-flight wi-fi also poses a safety risk,” he added. “When flying becomes more onerous, some people will opt to drive instead. Per mile traveled, driving is far more dangerous than flying. Car accidents kill at least 200 times as many Americans as terrorists do each year.”

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