Sep 21, 2007

oh. my. god.

This arrest of Star Simpson is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen. Take a look at the pictures. It's several green LEDs in the shape of a Star - it is indeed her name tag. Anybody with 2 hours of electronics instruction should be aware that a 9V battery, a few resistors and several cheap LEDs *in a breadboard* are not dangerous. (Case in point - I blew one up yesterday in lab. Nobody was hurt.)

I can't believe that security people trained to recognize bombs are so ignorant of what a bomb might actually look like that they could mistake a flashy little nametag circuit as an attempt at terrorism. If a person is allowed to use deadly force in order to prevent a bomb from being set off, he better be incredibly well trained in the art of bomb-recognition. I just watched a news report where the Chief of Police described it as a "circuit board that actually lit up". Lit. Up. Imagine that! He even calls it "a device". Idiot.

What's more, I can't believe they didn't apologize to her after they realized what it was. Sure, it was exposed electronics, but living in a state of fear of anything with a visible resistor is not going to cure terrorism. Hey, mister police man, what's that clipped on to the front of your shirt? A radio? Hey, what's that inside - IS THAT ELECTRONICS? I mean, honestly, the only difference between the two is a plastic case.

If our law enforcement can be duped by the simplest of circuits, we're worse off than I ever imagined. What we need is people who are highly informed and equipped with the most sophisticated equipment for bomb detection, and who are experts in responding with as little force as possible.

I think that people should be responsible for their personal choices, but not for others' ignorance. If a police officer can't tell a bomb from a piece of electronic art, it's not Star's fault. People who make unusual choices can usually be expected to endure unpleasant questioning because society likes norms, but they should never be punished under the law for harmless self-expression.

"Had she not followed the instructions, deadly force may have been used." Our police officers (or at least the ones responding to such a call) should unquestionably have been able to tell, by the time they had her at gunpoint, that they had made a mistake.

Holy chalupa, as they say.

Edit: Here's what I think happened. At MIT, you see, you can walk around with a shopping cart full of capacitors and the only comment you'll get is something like "hey, want a plastic bag to cover your capacitors? it's raining". I've seen people with all manner of complicated, dangerous experiments in MIT's hallways and nobody gives a second glance. I've even walked around with a bread board, PRECISELY the same one that Star had (she probably even got it from the same class I did - 6.002) and the only thing people say to me is "oh, did you finish the lab already? what resistor did you use for the voltage regulator?". It's easy to forget that Logan Airport is a completely different environment where, apparently, carrying circuits is a crime.

Edit2: This article from South Africa makes my blood boil.

"A 19-year-old student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology walked into Boston's Logan International Airport on Friday with a fake bomb strapped to her chest and was arrested at gunpoint, authorities said." It was a name tag, not a fake bomb. It was not strapped to her chest - it was pinned with a safety pin to her sweatshirt.

"Star Simpson, who is from Hawaii, wore a computer circuit board, wiring and a putty that later turned out to be Play-Doh strapped over her black hooded sweat shirt and in plain view." It was a bread board, not a circuit board. I know most people don't care what the difference is, but they are NOT the same thing. The so-called "putty" was in her hand, not even touching her nametag. And yes, it was in plain view - it was supposed to be. How many terrorists wear their bombs in plain view?

"She's extremely lucky she followed the instructions or deadly force would have been used," Pare said. "And she's lucky to be in a cell as opposed to the morgue."


Edit3: Even Fox news is reporting that it "turned out to be a fake bomb". I've never been so totally aware that the news networks in this country are shot to hell.

Edit4: This is what they used when the surrounded her at gunpoint.


Argonaut said...

"Holy Chalupa" is right. I can't believe that the general public, even "trained professionals" are so ignorant of the technical world! I am as shocked and appalled as you are, (as you know).

Holy Chalupa.


Cygnet said...

I don't really mind the general public being ignorant of circuits or electronics or even technology in general - if you don't need it in your life, you shouldn't have to know it.

But law enforcement - that's another story. If your job is to protect people from bombs, you better know what a bomb looks like.

Ian said...

Sweet holy crap. I'm starting to rethink my plan of hacking some extra bits onto my scooter ...

Does this mean that the Agarwal book should be shelved next to "The Anarchist's Cookbook" or PIHKAL?

(I'm somewhat disturbed by the whole 'surrounded at gunpoint', though I can see how it might happen. But once things are cleared up, what the hell is with the whole jail-bail-court thing? And why did the South African paper claim that "the police didn't know her motive"?

Cygnet said...

What I want to know is, why did the South African newspaper call her a "coed"? That drives me nuts. Outdated term from when women in technology were considered freaks.

DoubleYou said...

A bomb can look like anything. It could look exactly the same as what Star was wearing: if it had a programmable microcontroller on it, which you can't see from a distance (could be on the other side as well), it could be used to ignite something. The added playdough she carried, could be the plastic bomb.

It's very obvious after 9/11 that they're at most cautious for any exposed circuitry at airports. And the way US people arrest people, that's always the violent way. I can't help it you live in a violent country.

The point is that the current view of terrorism is the suicide bombers: strapping things to a larger device wouldn't be a problem (scooter for instance, hide it inside the scooter though). Also, packaging it nice makes it look less supicious.

A team from Egypt carrying a robot for a competition also was held before entering the plane. But, explanation and a view from the security, it was ok.

Cygnet said...

Yes, a bomb *detonator* can look like anything. It's true that a little breadboard could house plenty of complicated circuitry with the ability to ignite something. And because of that, I am not at all confused about why Star's name tag caused an alarm. I'm not even confused about why they arrested her.

But, you say it's "not your fault I live in a violent country" - do you mean to imply that you've accepted such actions as permanent part of the US, or that I should also accept them?

In that case I completely disagree. In my opinion, my country (well, the branch of it in Logan, anyway) reacted wrongly when they continued to press charges on Star even after they examined her "bomb" and found it was harmless. What next - will we be prohibited from bringing anything with exposed electronics in to the subway? The mall? Trains? Churches? Public concerts? Sometimes a person has to suffer discomfort when they express their freedoms (such as being questioned) but, when he or she is not hurting anybody, he or she should NEVER be held legally accountable for other peoples' ignorance. And if my country isn't there yet, I intend to talk about it.