Australia May Outlaw Laser Pointers

They were used against planes last week.

I'm sure criminals also used cars in Australia last week. Will the country ban them next?

On the other hand, I'm sick and tired of laser pointers myself. But the cats of Australia will be terribly disappointed.

Posted on April 2, 2008 at 1:51 PM • 73 Comments

Comments

mooApril 2, 2008 2:19 PM

Banning laser pointers may be treating the symptom, not the problem. I don't know if treating the problem is practical in this case, though? The problem is that there are incredibly stupid or malicious people out there who think its okay to deliberately endanger other people's lives from the safety of their own backyard, as long as they are not likely to be caught.

Maybe the only good thing about the ubiquitous global surveillance that we will have in the near future, is that we can catch the asshats who do things like this and send them to prison for a few years.

While we're at it, lets lock up the people who take their dogs for a walk and don't pick up their dogshit from the sidewalk. I hate those people too.

BertrandApril 2, 2008 2:21 PM

With no mysterious laser dots to chase, the cats of Australia will fall out of practice interacting with small fast moving objects. In only a few generations, they may lose the ability to notice insects, mice and other rapidly moving objects altogether.

The resulting swarms of mice will devastate fragile crops, and unchecked billions of insects will choke the air. As with plagues of locusts around the globe, the sheer numbers of insects may choke aircraft engine intakes, whirlybird propellers and countless unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles (keeping an eye on terrorists - for the children)

Ironic that banning objects to protect aircraft may lead to the opposite effect in the longer term....

bobApril 2, 2008 2:23 PM

No, they are absolutely correct. Everything which could possibly be (mis)used as a weapon should be outlawed immediately. Guns (already done). Laser pointers (in the works) Baseball Bats (already in Holland, I believe). Bricks. Lumber. Fibers (cotton, nylon, silk, etc). Human body parts. Water. Air. Then after a couple of weeks when all Australians are dead of exposure starvation and asphyxiation, we can take over the uninhabited continent.

keesApril 2, 2008 2:51 PM

See http://www.pangolin.com/faa/... for a simulation done in a FAA simulator of a green laser pointed at a cockpit. While I don't think you should ban lasers, I do approve of long jail sentences for criminal idiots that point them at airplanes.

BenApril 2, 2008 2:52 PM

Bruce, I see one major flaw in your argument.

People only have two hands.
Cats have no hands.

Where did your alleged third hand come from?

Petréa MitchellApril 2, 2008 3:02 PM

It may be that these aren't laser pointers being used, but the important part is that all the lawmakers seem to *think* they need to ban laser pointers to end this menace.

I'm curious about the choice of the word "attack". I wish there were more details about whether the pilots just saw a flash, or whether the laser seemed to track the plane, etc. That could help illuminate (no pun intended) whether it was really a directed attack, or just someone forgetting to take proper safeguards to block their laser light.

On the subject of what legitimate use the lasers might be being put to: At the heavy manufacturing site where I work, we use powerful green lasers for various measuring purposes. (I don't know exactly how powerful; we were warned that putting a hand in the beam would result in burns "like a bad sunburn".) Now, the lasers are all indoors here, but if someone set one up in an area that wasn't fully enclosed, I could see how it might not occur to them that light going up into the sky could still pose a hazard to human beings.

a fishApril 2, 2008 3:04 PM

>Where did your alleged third hand come from?

It is the invisible hand of the free market, of course. It will deliver lasers if the market demands lasers, regardless of the law. Then only outlaws will have lasers.

Timm MurrayApril 2, 2008 3:09 PM

Cheep laser pointers have tons of perfectly harmless uses. Pet toys are already mentioned. You can recreate the double-slit experiment. Make a rangefinder. Some of the more powerful ones can be used for laser cutters. Laser light shows. Some people have even made holograms with them (even though they're not as polarized as the HeNe lasers usually used for holograms).

Things this useful are only banned by people who lack imagination.

Johannes RösselApril 2, 2008 3:11 PM

jonathan, If you take a look at the images in the link kees posted or refer to this: http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/lights/5a47/
you might notice that a laser of 5 mW power might almost do the trick, let it be 10 mW. That's not exactly high-powered and perfectly within range of hand-held devices. You don't need some kind of evil overpowered laser beam weapon for this stuff.

JosephApril 2, 2008 3:17 PM

I don't think they are talking about making laser pointers illegal. They are talking about making it a crime to use a laser pointer in certain circumstances. There's quite a large difference in the two.

JosephApril 2, 2008 3:18 PM

The language of the article seems to agree: "but we're looking to make these items a prohibited weapon in *certain circumstances*" (emphasis added)

CosApril 2, 2008 3:36 PM

kees hits it on the nose: punish people who do bad things. Furthermore, publicize the punishment. That's much better than outlawing tools which may be used for plenty of good things. It's also probably more effective.

SkorjApril 2, 2008 3:47 PM

It's not that hard to make "laser-proof glasses". Today's standard US military-issue shooting glasses provide laser flash protection.

Just coat the cockpit glass with whatever makes for laser flash protection while you're armoring the cockpit door.

Unless the goal is outlaw enough common activities to make every citizen a felon and thereby give totalitarian power to the state, of course.

thewizApril 2, 2008 3:52 PM

Hey, it's the cats using the laser pointers. They're trying to get those big birds to fly lower so they can catch them.

RoyApril 2, 2008 3:53 PM

I believe the 'third hand' is from The Mote In God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

JBApril 2, 2008 3:56 PM

@Petrèa
Yes, these lasers have been used to "track" the planes, I have seen it on news footage after planes landing at Melbourne airport were targeted.
You could clearly see the laser following the the plane.

Chris BApril 2, 2008 4:06 PM

If laser pointers are outlawed, then only outlaws will have laser pointers!

Tom AApril 2, 2008 4:24 PM

> I believe the 'third hand' is from The Mote In God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

Appropriately, the story described a spacecraft propelled by a sail and a laser cannon.

WirelizardApril 2, 2008 4:26 PM

It's "on the gripping hand" from Mote In God's Eye by Niven & Pournelle.

Bruce suffers a minor fail in geekitude. :)

And as a commercial pilot, I'm all in favour of heavy jail sentences for idiots who "flash" airplanes. It should probably count as assault with a weapon, but I'm not a lawyer.

But banning laser pointers? Pointless.

AnonymousApril 2, 2008 4:48 PM

The lasers in question, at least according to some of the related news posts on that site, are on the order of 125 mW power output. Laser pointers as we usually think of them do not go higher than 5 mW (and some places do not even allow that much power legally, e.g. Victoria Australia limits them to max 1mW).

AnonymousApril 2, 2008 5:04 PM

"Just coat the cockpit glass with whatever makes for laser flash protection while you're armoring the cockpit door."

HAHAHA. No doubt.

Terry ClothApril 2, 2008 5:12 PM

This seems not to be unique to Australia. A report about Toronto ( http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2008/03/05/... discusses it, and it's been going on for years (Check Google's archive for 2004: http://news.google.com/archivesearch?...

Nor is banning them unique---some U.S. municipalities have tried, and many schools have forbidden them from their grounds.

@Cos: ``punish people who do bad things. Furthermore, publicize the punishment.''

So /that/'s why speeding has disappeared from our highways. :-) As it happens, the fine is roughly meaningless since the chance of being caught is so low. That's why the cry of ``raise the fine---that'll stop 'em'' is pointless; only raising the chance of losing (getting a ticket) will make a difference.

@Joseph: ``I don't think they are talking about making laser pointers illegal.''

That's not how I read it. From the article: ``The importation of laser pointers is likely to be outlawed [....]'', and ``[L]asers should be treated as weapons and dealt with by the law in the same way as other dangerous weapons.''

nerdboyApril 2, 2008 5:37 PM

Of course, this is the same country that banned ALL semi-automatic and pump action firearms. I believe their violent crime rate has tripled since then (not necessarily because the ban increased crime, but this shows how ineffective it was...).

AnonymousApril 2, 2008 5:40 PM

@Wirelizard

As obnoxious as it may well be, I can't believe that a simple laser flash could possibly take down an airplane. If it _is_ possible, then I won't be flying until the word is given there are in-cockpit procedures to deal with stuff like this. Heck, a threat like this -- laser pointer can crash a plane -- should be front-page news, along with it's real resolution (as opposed to political posturing).

AnonymousApril 2, 2008 5:52 PM

Better the low hang fruit of offensive crap, than enlightened systematic methods. Keep lasers, keep guns, keep the typical.
Gun rights, when a place loses them, the places loses all rights. Gun force common sense and proactive measures, AGAINST offensive low hangers.
Laws, what good are they when rights and common sense are dictated by power opportunites?
Airplanes can use measures to be smart, funny, lots of security experts were saying the same thing before 911. Oh well.
Outlaw x, then the bad guys will use them, and no proactive measures will be implemented until its too late, and then ALL wrong. USA is a perfect example.
Science is evolutionary, can't hide or outlaw natural selections powers.
From packetstorm, evolve or die.
Keep up the attractive reporting Bruce. Hopefully, some good will come out of it.

CipherChaosApril 2, 2008 6:07 PM

@jonathan

"it sounds like they are specifically talking about high powered lasers."

But.. but... but... I want one of those ones that make balloons and heads asplode! xD

kamperApril 2, 2008 6:33 PM

"[Laser Pointers] were used against planes last week.
I'm sure criminals also used cars in Australia last week. Will the country ban them next?"

That's poor logic. They didn't use cars /against planes/.

ZaD MoFoApril 2, 2008 6:45 PM

Banning objects does not ban stupidity.

How about pointing at Hubble Space Teleccope - KH Series Spy Satellites - The ISS, and that F-117 Stealth Fighter who went outside his maneuvering range (border...).
Also this tunnel boring machine, an out of aligment syndrome? And thoses pedestrians who got pointed at heart level by concealed (urban sniper) or childrens imitating action movies (the tactical unit strike). Outside cinema, the neibour cat... All for under $1.00.

But how many are dying on the roads just because someone used his cell phone without caution - The usual... Terrorist of the road?

For thoses down under, acording to ther police staff, it's cheaper to prosecute than to educate...

repastApril 2, 2008 6:59 PM

When the original sub-5mw red laser pointers came out in the mid-1990s (apparently the same sort of laser diode that was in use in supermarket POS scanners), I did a bit of research to get a feel for the danger and safety of lasers at that point.

The impression I got was that the primary worry was if the radiation could cause damage to the retina before the natural eye flinch reflex mechanisms activated.

In the case of handheld laser pointers, this danger was mitigated mainly by limiting the strength of the laser beam, but to some extent was also mitigated by the beam spreading resulting from handheld operation -- mounting the laser on a rigid structure so that it could be aimed more consistently made it more dangerous.

POS scanners spread the beam using a set of mirrors. This is useful in reducing the scanner's sensitivity to the position and orientation of the item being scanned, but is also useful in significantly reducing the radiation dose delivered to regions near the scanner.

My impression about the recent escalation about the concern about lasers disrupting vehicle operators is that it is related to the recent availability of higher-power (green?) lasers, not the

/repast

Nick LancasterApril 2, 2008 7:43 PM

I can't wait until someone gets a hold of the new flashlight that DHS was showing off last month, the one that strobes through multiple frequencies and causes the victims to flinch.

It'll make laser pointers seem like a trivial thing.

Outlawing laser pointers will simply make the ownership of higher-powered units more appealing.

Mark J.April 2, 2008 7:53 PM

As I'm reading this, my Network Security class instructor is using his laser pointer. Should I report him?

david harrisonApril 2, 2008 8:25 PM

While I typically agree with many of the sentiments on this blog, I'm not sure about this one, simply because I can't think of any alternatives.

From what I understand, the (perceived) risk (or at least one fringe case) is that pilots will get partially blinded and then crash their planes somewhere.

While this might be considered a bit of a movie threat plot, it certainly seems feasible that a pilot could at least suffer serious eye injury.

Given the power and accessibility of these lasers I find it a little scary that an average 12 year old asshat could get their hands on one of these and use them with impunity and near-anonymity - not just on aircraft, but on vehicles, pedestrians, animals, etc - at range, concealed and virtually untrackable.

I don't know enough about lasers to know if there's any magic way you can find these guys (short of blowing up a dust bomb and following the lines back to their source), so I'd be interested to hear about other ways to police this problem (short of ignoring it).

(It should also be noted that these laser points are already outlawed here in Australia in some states.)

jsfanApril 2, 2008 8:33 PM

The blog entry has a rather misleading title (as jonathan already pointed out). For one it is not "Australia" that considers banning the lasers but one Australian state (New South Wales) and then the word "laser pointer" gives the impression that they want to ban the small key tag laser pointers but something of higher power even if it might not be that much more. As much as I like reading your blog, Bruce, this just makes the headline sensationalistic. :(

AnonymousApril 2, 2008 8:56 PM

A laser-measuring device or a laser-level will shine an equivalent strength beam for a few seconds. Find 'em in most hardware stores.
Ban those also? What happens when lasers get by customs, and what about the no doubt thousands already in the country?

Why not just figure out how to nullify the threat from the aircraft level? Perhaps a polarizing filter of some sort on the windshield?

AnonymousApril 2, 2008 9:41 PM

@kamper

"That's poor logic. They didn't use cars /against planes/."

There is a good chance the perpetrators drove themselves out to the airport.

AnonymousApril 2, 2008 9:50 PM

@david harrison

"While this might be considered a bit of a movie threat plot, it certainly seems feasible that a pilot could at least suffer serious eye injury."

If laser pointers (II or IIIa) are the items in question, permanent eye injury is essentially impossible:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

"Van Norren et al. (1998)[9] could not find a single example in the medical literature of a

It can also be noted that with literally 10's of millions units in the field, had there been even a small risk of eye injury, we would probably be drowning in stories, warnings, huge class action lawsuits, and the pointers would have been banned a long, long, time ago.

shoobe01April 2, 2008 11:11 PM

The issue is not of blinding, but what is generally called dazzling. You get disoriented for a moment from the sudden light. When it stops

Catching them has tended to be easy. Because rednecks who shine lasers at airplanes on purpose are idiots. They talk about it. They do it in the street, while hollerin' about how cool it is. Sometimes the cops around here catch them before the FAA even gets the report and asks.

The most striking dazzling cases I've heard have been when the laser strikes a slightly scratchy window at the right angle. Instead of being a beam shining straight in, it reflects off all the internal flaws and fills the whole cabin. Its low powered, so there's even less risk, but its apparently pretty difficult to see anything in the cockpit, at all.

I believe its much harder than generally understood to place and maintain anti-laser coatings on anything. Not an expert, but anti-laser items I run across still seem pretty specialized and expensive.

ascianApril 2, 2008 11:17 PM

"One of the pilots reported the laser beams appeared to be coming from the vicinity of a McDonald's restaurant near Bexley, about five kilometres south-west of the airport."

Ban McDonalds!

AnonymousApril 3, 2008 12:51 AM

@repast

Your color reference is misleading. You can get a 225 mW red laser pretty easily by just dismantling a relatively cheap DVD drive (and there are stores online that sell 125 mW+), and the green laser pointers you see in everyday stores are still only 5mW.

Green != dangerous and red != safe. If you're ever going to be around lasers, it is very dangerous to assume that.

dogApril 3, 2008 1:48 AM

Probably governaments wants an excuse to extend in-airport security rules to some miles around the airport :)

Jokes apart, it is a clear example about how unrealistic is the fear / danger perception of people.
Firearms are now banned or strictly controlled in most countries, but still abitual criminals have them, and still non abitual criminals easily find deadly improvised weapons to kill, as kitchen knives and gardening tools, noone bothering to ban them...
Or, there are plenty of journalist talking about potential air terrorist plots (including laser pointers) and they blatantly pretend to ignore that in last century car accidents have killed about as many people as war (not counting death resulting from car pollution and oil wars...), many orders of magnitude more than all plane accidents.

David (Toronto)April 3, 2008 6:57 AM

There are a number of applications where these tools can be very useful. Bloody shame they get abused.

From time to time I use a green laser pointer for doing star talks. For this purpose 5mW just doesn't work. You're into a class IIIb laser. But there are a lot of laser pointers in this class that are far more powerful than needed for this purpose.

To the manufactures, I'd be very interested in a star pointer that coudl be dialed up/down.

I am also extremely careful not to point at anything moving that might even remotely be a plane. If I even suspect it's a plane the laser goes off/away. When something moves and I want to point it out, I trail behind it. Even when I'm 99.99% sure its a satellite.

These morons could have just as easily taken guns and shot at planes. (Rifles are still legal down under?).

I'm in favour of penalties for people who abuse these things in such reckless ways. But not banning them.

AnonymousApril 3, 2008 7:33 AM

@Kaukomieli: Good call! Ive said for years they should make illegal behaviors against the law then they don't have to ban ANY inanimate objects!

A laser is a light source which puts out a single frequency of light. The color (ie frequency) is determined by the gas which is excited in the tube to emit light, for example HeNe is the ubiquitous "red" laser gas mixture and can produce anywhere from 1mw up to 200mw lasers. As far as danger from lasers, the quality of the laser that makes it dangerous is the narrowness of the beam. The cheaper it is, the more it spreads with distance.

If it hits a "scratch on glass" and spreads out through the cockpit, it will have the same effect as an LED being illuminated in the cockpit, ie you wont be able to tell its there with the 5,217 lights already blinking, shining and flashing in an operational cockpit. Furthermore, without some DoD/NASA caliber gyroscopically controlled gimbal mount ($$$$$$) to track an aircraft you aren't going to be able to track the cockpit for more than a momentary hit every couple of seconds, so for any "lingering" effects it is going to need to be many times stronger than anything available without a prescription.

I used to use a 2W (ie 2,000mW) CO2 laser which you had to be very careful around because contact with bare skin would cause a nasty burn and instant blindness if eyes were exposed (but made a -really- cool cigarette lighter back when smoking in workplaces was encouraged; although you had to be careful to angle it so the beam hit the tobacco and not the white paper which would reflect the energy). I was struck in the eye in pitch darkness (ie pupils WIDE open) with a hit from a 125mW laser (off a 99% albedo polished front-surface mirror) at a range of 8' back then and the effect dazzled me for about 10 seconds. At the 2-3 mile slant range of someone on the ground aiming through atmosphere and cockpit glass, it will be annoying but not really dangerous unless they are using a laser which was designed to be a weapon and not some homebrew thing with commercially available parts.

A CD laser may have relatively high power, but it is emitted by an LED rather than a gas tube and only designed to focus less than 1 mm away. At the distance a flying airplane is at you may as well try to crash it by playing the CD itself real loud.

That said, I believe if you ARE convicted of shining a laser at an airplane, (or ship, helicopter, train, car, tractor or bicycle) they should drop you OUT of a flying aircraft with only your laser to use as a parachute.

David HarmonApril 3, 2008 8:21 AM

As noted above, this is hardly new.

Also, my cat figured out the countermeasure within a half hour, when she noticed there was another red dot in my hand. (Ouch!)

XyzApril 3, 2008 9:11 AM

"But the cats of Australia will be terribly disappointed."

Cats in the US have been disappointed ever since United States Patent 5,443,036:

"A method for inducing cats to exercise consists of directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct."

bobApril 3, 2008 10:16 AM

@david harrison: It wouldnt be hard to install a cockpit camera which could be used to locate the point on the ground where the laser came from.

not-mooApril 3, 2008 10:33 AM

@moo

Speaking of dog duke, why do people get all bent out of shape about animals pooping on the grass (or sidewalk as you mention) but don't when the animal urinates in the same place?

Possibly the baggies dog owners carry around should be accompanied by sponges?

LesApril 3, 2008 11:59 AM

Has there ever been any evidence of a laser pointer even coming close to bringing down a plane?
You would think that real terrorists (as opposed to Australian pranksters) would have caught-on to this by now...

mooApril 3, 2008 1:38 PM

@not-moo: Well, for one thing, after a light rain the dog whee tends to get washed away, while the dog doo might still be sitting there. Its ugly and smelly and annoying to step in.

We've come a long way from the days when people used to dump their slops out of a second-story window into the street, but some people still are too lazy to clean up after their pets.

...I think part of the problem is that I live in a city with a lot of homeless folks, and for some reason, many of them have dogs. They seem to have little to no incentive to clean up after their pets. Every day walking to and from work, I pass literally a dozen or more places where there is dog crap all over the sidewalk. Sigh, so sad.

Rich WilsonApril 3, 2008 2:43 PM

Can we please ban headlights on SUVs? I find them to be pretty blinding in my rear view mirror.

notmensaApril 4, 2008 5:57 AM

The Wiki page mentioned earlier -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...
also describes issues with "flash blindness", startle reflex from unexpected exposure, and the potential to trigger a "Photic Sneeze" (involuntary sneezing fit).

This article describes an incident in Sept 07 when an emergency helicopter was targeted as it attempted to land at a hospital with a critical ill patient on board. The article claims that 170 incidents had been reported already in 2007.
http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/...

AnonymousApril 4, 2008 7:28 AM

@notmensa

"The article claims that 170 incidents had been reported already in 2007."

The article reads more like your typical media-inspired panic. While intensely irritating, and a plainly reasonable fear, that 170 of these have occurred without one single accident does suggest the threat isn't as big as it may actually be.

Has there been any laser-induced aircraft accident, anywhere at all?

As for the "photic sneeze" ... if that is a risk, then how do the suffers of this condition drive safely? At night, any on-coming vehicle should trigger it, right? During the day, there should be a larger pile of wrecked vehicles at the exit of tunnels, the pile being higher on sunny days?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A199604

Asks if pilots are tested for the condition. If the risk is real, then this seems not only reasonable, but mandatory as a laser is probably the least of your worries, being just one of many more ways the reflex can be triggered.

KanlyApril 5, 2008 12:41 AM

Ban guns. Anyone with one can take pot shots at them from near an airport. Far more dangerous.

In Australia a few years ago some unknown ratbag took a pot shot with a rifle at a passing car in the countryside. Shot the passenger, wife of the driver, in the throat. She died, but no one blamed guns.

So let's ban laser pointers? And if this really was a threat, why do they have to wait for someone to do it before they ban them? Same thing with the Shopping Centre scenario. Lots of people there, little security. Again the authorities will wait for something to happen before doing something (probably useless, because no one wants to ban shopping centers, but enough that they can stand up and say 'We fixed that!')

Makes no sense. Any of it.

insanity is prevailingApril 5, 2008 6:40 PM

"Lasers banned after plane attacks"
http://www.news.com.au/story/...

There seems to be no limit to paranoia, and no limit to how much money these idiots will waste on protecting us from the unlikely. Why not just put a mandatory 40 year sentence on the crime and be done with it?

I recall a friend who lived on the approach path to a minor Australian airport who once told me he could hit incoming 727's with his slingshot in his back yard (ok, so that shows my age) which was probably 500m from the point they touch down.

There are so many failure modes that can be influenced by normal people, so many ways that large numbers of people can be affected by one stupid act. Trying to protect against any of them seems as stupid as it is futile.

RogerApril 17, 2008 8:28 AM

A couple of thoughts.
1. While there have been many such incidents, the latest event does seem a little different. At least three persons in widely separated locations participated, and they all used lasers considerably more powerful than conventional laser pointers. They persisted for 15 minutes, lasing 6 different aircraft, but were long gone when the police arrived half an hour later... It was the apparent planned determination to cause an aircraft to crash which has provoked this response from politicians.

2. Our politicians here in Australia are nothing if not accomplished knee-jerkers, and in response to the recent incident there have been statements by both the NSW state government and the Federal government about bans. None of the statements have been at all clear and we really don't yet know what it is exactly that they are proposing to ban.

3. As a student pilot myself, I certainly sympathise with pilots being attacked in this way (and their passengers!) However, I believe the hazard has been considerably exaggerated. I have never been lased in the cockpit, but I have seen realistic simulations, and for a 5 mW laser it really wasn't all that bad unless the laser was no more than a few hundred metres away. A powerful 125 mW laser was a serious glare problem out to about a mile or so: but at most airports, if you have someone running around with a laser pointer less than a mile from the runway, you have a bigger security problem than just dazzling.

So most of these "attacks", even with higher powered lasers, are too dim to be more than a (fairly severe) nuisance. This is borne out by the fact that out of several hundred attacks so far, NO aircraft have crashed. There have, however, been quite a few go-arounds, but we are talking more of a severe public nuisance rather than mass murder here!

AshApril 21, 2008 6:08 PM

(1) The lasers are not strictly "banned", any more than guns are. Anyone with a legitimate reason to have one of these things (eg, surveyors) may obtain a permit for it. This process, I expect, will involve lodging a form with the police saying "my name is ..., I live at ..., I need this device because of ..., I agree not to point it at vehicles in the air or on the ground, or at people or animals, especially their eyes, and here's my $20" and not much more. There may be an age limit, but I expect a child will be allowed to use it under licensed supervision.

In other words, far less complex than establishing licensing for a car, or even a prescription drug. Which is fair, as it is less dangerous thing than either.

You Yanks have been socialized by corporate propaganda for decades into fearing and hating "licensing" regimes per se. (Despite having one of the highest alcohol licensing age barriers in the developed world.) There is nothing wrong with requiring people who want to do something potentially dangerous, to (a) show appropriate skill to do it; (b) have an appropriate reason to do it.

Now, there is a definite danger in licensing fees operating as economic rather than skill barriers, if allowed to rise too high; they should be no more onerous than a test of the skill would require. Unless of course there is some sound reason to impose an economic barrier. (Again, not something Yanks seem to have a problem with; indeed your entire society can be viewed as a complex and chaotic set of interlocking economic barriers.)

(2) Kitty-cat teasers and lecture pointers are not banned. The wattage of lasers banned under this law is significantly higher than required by *anything* an ordinary person would ordinarily want to do with an ordinary laser pointer. Again, if you have some extraordinary reason, see #1.

(3) Philosophically, the battle between proponents of liberty and positive law (you may do anything, unless a law forbids it), and proponents of authority and negative law (you may do nothing, unless a law allows it), has been well and truly won by the former, and rightly so. However, *there is still a place for laws forbidding things*. As with licensing regimes, there is an element of American society that is strongly invested in the concept that *all* laws are baaaad. You have more libertarians per square metre than anywhere else on Earth. These people are frankly idiots, and deserve no more consideration among political theorists than flat-earthers among geologists, or creationists among biologists. Despite clear and repeated disproof of their hobbyhorse, they continue to ride it. That, in itself, denies them a place at the table of rational folk.

AnonymousApril 15, 2009 12:58 AM

this is a ridiculous to the amateur astronomers like me which need more powerful lasers than simple 1 mw. its also stupid that you have to fill out weapon importation forms, i mean just for a laser, a weapons form??!!?!?!?

RegNovember 12, 2009 8:14 PM

I ordered and paid for <1mW green laser just recently and Australian Customs seized it stating that it was 42.5mW (how ridiculous) I lost my pointer for which I had a legitimate use for in my work, and also received a threatening letter with the notice of seizure that I could be prosecuted and fine up to $110,000.
These Customs officials seem to have got really big egos since "Border Patrol" aired on TV

Clive RobinsonNovember 12, 2009 11:57 PM

@ Reg,

"I ordered and paid for <1mW green laser just recently and Australian Customs seized it stating that it was 42.5mW (how ridiculous)"

You are both correct and both wrong.

Most "green" laser pointers use a high power IR laser (50mW) which then goes through a crystal to convert the IR light to visable green light. Due to the losses in the convertion process the power of the green light is less than 1mW.

If you have a hunt around on the web you will find "home constructor" articals showing how to take a green laser apart to use the IR laser for hobby activities such as long range night vision / photography etc (I think there was one in an O'Reilly publication).

Jason PickbunJanuary 27, 2010 9:43 AM

@CipherChaos Yes a green laser pointer can pop up a balloon, I may refer you to visit the different types of green laser pointer at http://www.techlasers.com green laser pointer with a 5mW can burn also.

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Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..