Dropped iPod Leads to Terror Alert

This is a surreal story about a guy who accidentally drops his iPod into an airplane toilet, prompting a full-scale terror alert. Overreaction at its worst.

Posted on August 25, 2006 at 1:46 PM • 46 Comments

Comments

anonymanAugust 25, 2006 2:27 PM

This is absolutely outrageous in so many ways!

I can't even count the ways in which this person's rights were violated, even just the ones common to the US and Canada.

Search, seizure, detention, etc.

One thing's for sure: Americans who muse about fleeing to Canada have another thing coming.

nzrussAugust 25, 2006 2:34 PM

...and you can bet his name is now on every watchlist, and he will be subject to secondary and tertiary searches on every flight. Poor Guy.

Richard BraakmanAugust 25, 2006 2:55 PM

The moral of this story: don't try to be helpful or informative. Keep your mouth shut and wait it out.

ruidhAugust 25, 2006 3:13 PM

I would like to claim a corrolary to Warhol's Law. In the future, everyone will be a suspect for 25 hours.

/Let me go. My 25 hours are up!

Future Ex-PatriotAugust 25, 2006 3:47 PM

Rats, I was planning on relocating to Canada to escape the insanity in the US (in 10 years, when the climate has warmed up sufficiently).

tbshmkrAugust 25, 2006 3:49 PM

Surreal yes! Truth? Who knows!

Any other stories on news sites to back this up?

I did a quick Google News but found nothing!

Drew ThalerAugust 25, 2006 3:58 PM

This has a strong ring of truth to it. And it's absolutely insane.

Practical advice for ordinary folks: Next time you drop something in an airplane toilet, quietly accept the fact that IT'S GONE and for God's sake don't tell anyone it was yours. This guy would've gotten out so much faster and easier if he'd done that. With hindsight I'm sure he'd make that trade in a second.

Word to the idiotic "security theater" folks: you are not vigilantes, nor are you the SS. With your aggressively stupid behavior you are simply encouraging ordinary people to NOT give you information. Congratulations. Of course, you'll never read this, because if you were a reader of Bruce's blog you would already know better.

CarlosAugust 25, 2006 4:04 PM

Navigate into the WoW forums, select an arbitrary forum and select an arbitrary thread. Then paste in the URL (http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=11211166&pageNo=1) and you can read the post.

Stupid site.

Drew ThalerAugust 25, 2006 4:05 PM

As for the truthiness of it -- the comments below the article have several links to Canadian news stories, and a press release from the official Ottawa police site: http://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/serving_ottawa/...

The fact that there was an iPod in a toilet on an airplane is certainly legit. The personal account, well, it's a personal account posted under a handle. Give it as much credence as you want, but this isn't exactly out of character for the security theater.

MilanAugust 25, 2006 4:19 PM

"Keep your mouth shut and wait it out."

If they go to such lengths as to fingerprint the device and the passengers, or link up the serial number to a customer, then you might get into even worse trouble.

SarcAugust 25, 2006 4:36 PM

@Milan
>If they go to such lengths as to fingerprint the device and the passengers, or link up the serial number to a customer, then you might get into even worse trouble.

Practice saying this with a straight face, "Pardon me, officer, but I had no idea that simply losing a somewhat pricey music-player could cause a terror alert."

For the brave, lean in slightly, lower your voice, and say "I realize Canada is a neighborly place, and I appreciate all the assistance in recovering my iPod, but doesn't it seem like a _bit_ of an overreaction?"

RichAugust 25, 2006 5:05 PM

It's interesting to read the different news reports and see how the story changes slightly.

Another POV from someone else on the same plane (http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/opinion/story.html?id=1c0072fe-4d98-44e4-8414-652f83e27868)
has it that "Knowing that his iPod was ruined and apparently reluctant to put his hands in the toilet, the young man tried unsuccessfully to flush it away and returned to his seat."

According to the young man himself, he didn't realize he'd lost it until much later.

So I guess my question is- what do you do if you drop your iPod or any other electronic device. Do you tell someone right away and run the risk of something like this? Or wait, and risk something like this? There doesn't seem to be a reasonable way to resolve a simple accident.

Shit happens. How we deal with it is important.

WonkothesaneAugust 25, 2006 5:39 PM

I don't know about Canada, anonyman, when you are going through cusotms in the USA, you belong to them. If customs wants to, they can search you, interrogate you, etc.

KevinAugust 25, 2006 5:52 PM

anonyman: In regards to the rights that were "violated" - have you ever crossed a border before? Customs can and will ask you all kinds of weird questions (yes, even questions related to your sexual desire towards the person you're visiting; I've had a few friends where that's happened) if they deem it relevant and they are more than happy to go through your bags, and that's from both sides of the border. You're welcome to refuse search I suppose, but then again, you'll be shipped back across.

He was flying from a foreign country into Canada and was basically being processed for customs - the fact that he was related to a threat, way out of proportion or not, meant they asked more.

I'm pretty sure even the most liberal-leaning of countries is not going to let you into the country if you refuse to be searched, and you're pretty much at the mercy of questions - this was basically a customs session with the heat turned up.

An no offence to this guy, but talking back to any border agent is incredibly dumb, let alone asserting rights to "protected speech" that may or may not be true in the country he's in.

Don't get me wrong, they were dumb and overreacted to this whole thing, but even in the US (from 1789 onward from one set of notes I've seen) the fourth amendment does not apply to border searches.

He got all of his stuff back, so I'm not sure where the seizure came from. They could have probably been dicks and kept the iPod temporarily for "evidence" but they didn't.

And detention - being (stupidly) implicated in a bombing and free to go the same day is pretty good in my books.

Anyway, yes, they overreacted to a crazy degree. No, the extra stuff probably wasn't necessary. But I'm curious exactly where his rights were violated here.

Apparently people who cross the border and expect to be able to refuse search have another thing coming as well.

AnonymousAugust 25, 2006 7:52 PM

I am a Canadian Citizen and unfortunately I'm not surprised, but very disappointed. Canada unfortunately no longer can stand on it's own. Our leaders for some reason keep their noses so far up Bush's a** it's pathetic.

Mark J.August 25, 2006 10:56 PM

Shouldn't Apple and Steve Jobs now be prosecuted for aiding and abetting terrorism? Isn't this corporate sponsorship of terrorism?

averrosAugust 26, 2006 1:57 AM

Why anyone is surprised?

The incentives for TSA folks is to react - they show they're doing something. It does not cost them personally anything, and provides some entertaintment in the course of otherwise seriously dull work. They don't have to be reasonable; in fact, every TSA employee knows for sure that if they were reasonable *and* something bad happened they'd be the ones who'd be dipped in the shit, repeatedly.

So, in the choice between "overreact to non-threats" and "be reasonable" their choice is always "overreact".

The only known solution to this problem is to have the parties being protected to bear the full costs of protection - and leave them choice about the tradeoff between level of protection and the cost they're willing to bear.

In other words, get the government heck out of the protection business. All it does is moves the cost of protecting some people to everyone else (and I'm talking not only about direct material costs), thus creating perverse incentives for the people charged with delivering the protection.

The same argument applies not only to the transportation security, but also to police and military. For some reason I don't think politicans would be so eager to fight stupid wars if they had to pay for them out of their own pockets.

another_bruceAugust 26, 2006 2:14 AM

don't tell nobody nuthin!
he made a mistake disclosing that it was his ipod, another mistake mentioning cara (good luck with that relationship after potentially siccing cops on her). he made a mistake when he mentioned world of warcraft. stupidity costs! too bad it cost the other passengers too.

SparafucileAugust 26, 2006 7:48 AM

@averros

"The only known solution to this problem is to have the parties being protected to bear the full costs of protection - and leave them choice about the tradeoff between level of protection and the cost they're willing to bear."

A principle with which I agree and have been trying to spread, although I am not so convinced that this means "get Givernment off the backs of Security!"

Can someone more literate than I create a short pithy phrase (like "Polluter Pays") to say this?

Sparafucile

BrianDAugust 26, 2006 12:26 PM

I'm amazed it isn't completely obvious to folks what the *real* problem is -- toilets on airplanes. Toilets are an ideal place for terrorists to hide things. I'm confident that toilets on planes will be banned now that this dry run by the terrorists has been foiled.

DBHAugust 26, 2006 3:03 PM

No, I think the problem is clothes on airplanes. Lets face it, you can hide all sorts of stuff in clothing. If everyone was naked, then we would KNOW nothing bad had gotten on...well I guess thats a matter of taste tho...

Ever more ridiculous when you realize the iPod HAD to go through xray since it would have set off the metal detector otherwise. I wonder if he had just dropped it on the floor if it would have had the same effect?

wrsAugust 26, 2006 6:03 PM

The whole situation looks like a Hype on Terror to me. Every small minded person attempts to get its public fifteen minutes -- and too many people are willing to give them them.

In my opinion, the "war on terror" etc. encourages people to overreact. It probably could be overcome when people actively calm down and discourage others to take their "15 minutes".

dlgAugust 27, 2006 2:43 AM

This makes it even more obvious how easily a determined attacker can cause harm without killing anybody, and largely without getting into trouble. Even a small group of people could start "attacking" a specific airline, or airport. I wonder how long it would take for somebody to notice the pattern.

I think the incident itself is quite ridiculous, but that it is being reported is a good thing. In the UK, people's reactions to the security on Aug 10 were already largely annoyance instead of understanding of "necessary security measures". Ryanair is suing the BAA (UK's TSA) over their security measures, something that would have been politically impossible until recently. Maybe (hopefully) we have reached a tipping point, where fear starts to wear off and people start to think again. They are starting to realize that "security" comes at an economic and personal cost, and my hope is that cooperations (mostly airlines, but also airports) will start to force their governments to only adopt security measures that either actually improve security, or do not cost so much. Inconvenience is also a cost factor, especially for short distance carriers facing competition from trains (at least in europe).
The only reason this hasn't happened earlier is that public support was missing. As fear slowly stops replacing thought, public support might be coming back. Reporting on false alarms like this one is a good thing, since such reports do not scare anybody (except for the unlucky people involved), and show the pointlessness of the governments' approach to security. They also illustrate the ratio of terror to noise, which is close to zero. Unfortunately, these incidents will very soon cease to be newsworthy if their frequency stays the same.

MikeAugust 27, 2006 2:36 PM

Sadly, although I'm an honest and reasonable man, my answers to many of the later questions this poor young man was asked would have been: "Fuck off! Are you crazy?"

Mike.

Jon SowdenAugust 27, 2006 5:42 PM

"This makes it even more obvious how easily a determined attacker can cause harm without killing anybody, and largely without getting into trouble. Even a small group of people could start "attacking" a specific airline, or airport. I wonder how long it would take for somebody to notice the pattern. "

Yup. This occurred to me a while ago. Sort of an elevated civil-disobedience campaign. A group of people doing stuff like
* dropping dry ice into the liquids dump bins now in airports ("Eep! The bin is smoking!")
* Carrying loops of wire in their luggage, either carry on or checked in. (Coiled wire shows up on xray, hell breaks loose)
* Deliberately act in suspicious manner.
* Wear shoes with hollow compartments, or a money belt around your gut with various metal things in it (coins, washers, keys, the ubiquitous loop of wire, etc)
* Carry a non-functional (or demonstration) laptop and/or cellphone with the guts removed, possibly replaced with a - you guessed it - loop of coiled wire.
* etc.

Have 10-15 people hit each of the major transport hubs across the US at the same time on the same day. No one hurt, no one injured (unless the TSA keystone cops are jumpier than normal), probably a few court cases, possibly a bit of jail time. The payoff is massive transport disruption and delays which go on for months afterwards.

So, a month later; rinse, repeat. And again,and again. Then start doing the same at other locations - Superbowl, the Mall in DC, etc.

OggerAugust 27, 2006 7:04 PM

Jon,

Isn't that a standard attack against security measures? Sort of like going up and jiggling the fence sensor to make the guards turn down the sensitivity.

Nice way to get them to change the system.

Jon SowdenAugust 27, 2006 7:12 PM

Perhaps, but I meant doing it in a more disruptive way. So, Al Quaeda - instead of going for the big bang - go for an extended period of disrutption. Instead of a few hundred people killed, they get a few million highly pi$$ed at the governments general incompetence.

Given that people who are prepared to kill themselves seem to be fairly easy to find, finding lots more people prepared to risk time in prison should be a comparative doddle. Oh, and along the way they could overload the courts and justice system too.

Go for targets that bleed money, not blood.

R. OrretAugust 28, 2006 1:56 AM

Jon,

given the current hysteria, you could even do a serious terrorist attack - without planning, without any preparation, without any material. Just stand in the middle of a really large crowd on a mass event in a bordered place, e.g. a stadium. Then scream "OH MY GOD! A TERRORIST! HE HAS A BOMB!".

Chances are good for a mass panic with a few dead and hundreds of injuries, in front of running cameras. You even have a small chance of getting away undiscovered and without injuries.

Richard BraakmanAugust 28, 2006 3:40 AM

@Moshe:

"They had no way to know , in flight, if iPod Man was innocent or if he was a terrorist attempting to salvage his mission."

They have no way to know that about anyone. They've already let him onto the plane. The iPod didn't become any more or less dangerous from having been dropped in the toilet.

sharks (on a plane)August 28, 2006 6:37 AM

@Richard Braakman: "The iPod didn't become any more or less dangerous from having been dropped in the toilet."

Are you kidding? There's LIQUIDS down there!

Stefan WagnerAugust 28, 2006 8:06 AM

@Kevin: "An no offence to this guy, but talking back to any border agent is incredibly dumb, let alone asserting rights to "protected speech" that may or may not be true in the country he's in."

Well - what's the western culture we share, and shall protect?
What habit of conversation do I have to show, speaking to officials? Where is that written?

After examining that the lost iPod was a lost iPod and nothing else - why do they examine the laptop?
How do they examine a laptop?
My laptop contains about 810 750 files - you would need weeks for an unserious examination.

Anonymous CowardAugust 28, 2006 1:11 PM

This is horrible. What /should/ the guy have done? This is a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario. The lesson, i guess, is to make sure you don't drop your iPod in the crapper, because after that happens, everything else follows.

And then his rights are unclear. "What country do you think you're in?" He's not being arrested, doesn't have a right to an attorney, can't take the 5th, etc.

Are there any lawyers here who would care to give advice on how one should act in a similar situation?

Anonymous CowardAugust 28, 2006 3:27 PM

Thinking a little further, would the lost iPod have caused trouble if it had been dropped elsewhere? I think we have to assume it would. It's important to be very careful with any personal possessions inside an airplane these days. Any misplaced object can cause an Incident.

Richard BraakmanAugust 28, 2006 3:52 PM

Are airplanes searched for explosives in between flights? Operation Bojinka relied on placing explosives on the first leg of two-leg flights, timing them to explode during the second leg. This made it a non-suicide plan, which presumably increases the pool of recruits significantly.

In Philippine Airlines Flight 434, the bomb was simply hidden under an airplane seat, and not flushed through the toilet or anything. (The seat was chosen to be close to the fuel tanks.)

I'm willing to bet that airplanes are not searched between flights, because that would (a) actually increase security, and (b) fail to inconvenience any passengers.

bobAugust 29, 2006 9:31 AM

I also fail to see the connection between being a terrorist and having porn on my laptop. Did the customs guy want to swap files with the guy? Or was it a negative qualifier; a true muslim extremist going to meet Allah that day would NOT have any porn on his laptop so if this guy did he would have been free to go?

Matt DAugust 29, 2006 11:03 AM

@bob: "Or was it a negative qualifier; a true muslim extremist going to meet Allah that day would NOT have any porn on his laptop so if this guy did he would have been free to go?"

Or perhaps it was just the ground-state of cop mentality kicking in: "He's pissed us off now by embarrassing us, and if you dig deep enough you can always find something on someone."

Alleged kiddie porn is especially 'good' for this type of cop/official, when they've badly over reacted and know that a shit-storm is likely to be heading their way: it tends to silence all criticism from/by the victim (and reporting thereof), whether or not the allegation has any real substance.

In this case it seems to have backfired somewhat - no dodgy pictures found, and a very prominent set of blog entries about it all.

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