Forrest M. Mims III is an award-winning inventor who attends conferences all over the world. This requires him to travel with all manner of gadgetry that contains exposed circuits and the like. Naturally this results in airline security becoming alarmed and he writes about his experiences, including one that ended up with him being put in a chokehold by the pilot of his plane.
But he begins his story with another tale of overreaction that happened to someone else.
Star Simpson was a bright electrical engineering student at MIT in 2007 when she visited the baggage section of Boston Logan International Airport to meet a friend. Instead, she was surrounded by police, arrested at gunpoint, placed in hand- and ankle cuffs and put in a jail cell. Her offense? Star’s sweater featured a DIY star made from 11 green LEDs and a 9-volt battery cemented to a solderless breadboard. A plastic rose she made for her friend was suspected of being an explosive.
Airport security is supposed to protect us from authentic terrorists, and Star’s LEDs and plastic rose certainly didn’t earn her the harsh treatment she received. Even though the police quickly determined her LED star was totally harmless, Boston’s judicial system took a year to drop a “hoax device” charge against Star, a violation that requires an intention to alarm others that never even entered her mind. Instead, she was sentenced to a year of probation for “disorderly conduct” and required to write a public apology and do 50 hours of community service.
After describing the things that have happened to him including the chokehold, he says he knows what the problem is.
After police were called when I was going through security at the San Antonio International Airport and after major problems going through security in Kona, Hawaii, I finally realized the obvious: Most people who don’t make things have no idea how to evaluate homemade equipment. Some are terrified by exposed wires and circuit boards, maybe because of bomb scenes in movies.
So I gave up. Now my carryon bag is only half stuffed with electronics; the rest is shipped ahead via FedEx.
As for the airport security officers who have hassled me over the years, they are charged with protecting us from terrorism. They have a responsibility to carefully inspect anything unusual passengers might be carrying, and you and I have a duty to cooperate with them. So far they haven’t arrested me, and they don’t arrest children wearing shoes with flashing LEDs. But they went too far when they arrested Star Simpson after they determined that the LEDs on her sweater were harmless.
This advice should apply to school officials in general and then we might find fewer cases of school authorities getting freaked out by inventive students.