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  • Let's not blind people

    Just got back from DEFCON 22, and while the event was great there was some potentially dangerous behavior at a few talks and the closing ceremonies ...laser pointers were being projected from the crowd out onto the walls behind the stage. Had these been just class 1 or class 2 laser this would be no big deal. However, based on the diffuse reflection pattern, several of them were significantly more powerful than this.

    Imagine for a second that a person in front of someone projecting one of these high power lasers had stood up and turned around … or one of the many shiny balloons being tossed around by the crowd intersected the beam and provided a specular reflection into someone’s eye. It is more than a distant possibility someone could have been permanently injured.

    ...One of the particular lasers being using was emitting violet. With the human eye not being as sensitive to violet, and its bright spot on the wall far outshining all of the green spots. This was guaranteed well above, 50mW. far exceeding what is eye safe.

    While they can be very fun, high power lasers are not toys, and must be treated with the same respect one would show any other device with can permanently maim another human being.

    I’m not suggesting that laser pointers be outlawed or anything stupid like that, but I think some sort of control needs to be in place over what is allowed. Lots of people buy them because its so easy, but don’t understand the safety concerns at all. It’s one thing to mess around at home and risk impairing one’s own vision. It’s a whole another thing to take it to a room of full of thousands of people and play roulette with their vision.


    -Jmaxxz

  • #2
    Re: Let's not blind people

    Originally posted by jmaxxz View Post
    Just got back from DEFCON 22, and while the event was great there was some potentially dangerous behavior at a few talks and the closing ceremonies ...laser pointers were being projected from the crowd out onto the walls behind the stage. Had these been just class 1 or class 2 laser this would be no big deal. However, based on the diffuse reflection pattern, several of them were significantly more powerful than this.

    Imagine for a second that a person in front of someone projecting one of these high power lasers had stood up and turned around … or one of the many shiny balloons being tossed around by the crowd intersected the beam and provided a specular reflection into someone’s eye. It is more than a distant possibility someone could have been permanently injured.

    ...One of the particular lasers being using was emitting violet. With the human eye not being as sensitive to violet, and its bright spot on the wall far outshining all of the green spots. This was guaranteed well above, 50mW. far exceeding what is eye safe.

    While they can be very fun, high power lasers are not toys, and must be treated with the same respect one would show any other device with can permanently maim another human being.

    I’m not suggesting that laser pointers be outlawed or anything stupid like that, but I think some sort of control needs to be in place over what is allowed. Lots of people buy them because its so easy, but don’t understand the safety concerns at all. It’s one thing to mess around at home and risk impairing one’s own vision. It’s a whole another thing to take it to a room of full of thousands of people and play roulette with their vision.


    -Jmaxxz
    If this is something you think should be changed for DEF CON 23, please post to https://forum.defcon.org/showthread.php?t=13986 and suggest one or more methods to make it a reality; something other than "just make it a rule," because laws are rules, and laws making murder illegal do not stop murders.

    Related to this... For a long time, laser pointers towards the stage have been an issue. IIRC, I think an old presenter from a single digit DEF CON (Thor, I think) was presenting, and people pointed lasers at his face. He took to wearing sunglasses, and then used his laser pointer to point at the people pointing laser at his face. This did not have the desired result. Other people saw this, and joined the audience, outnumbering his counter to their attack. Eventually, I think Priest came on stage to tell offenders that this behavior was unacceptable, but this admonishment did not stop it from happening, only reduced the count and frequency for a while.

    If you have ideas on how to change behavior other than "make it s a policy" we'd love to hear it.
    Thanks!
    -Cot
    Last edited by TheCotMan; August 11, 2014, 21:08.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Let's not blind people

      Originally posted by TheCotMan View Post
      If this is something you think should be changed for DEF CON 23, please post to https://forum.defcon.org/showthread.php?t=13986 and suggest one or more methods to make it a reality; something other than "just make it a rule," because laws are rules, and laws making murder illegal do not stop murders.
      A policy would be a starting point. What drove this home for me was taking a class on lasers in college. Education of the community is the most important thing, the problem is folks just don't understand how dangerous lasers of this power are.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Let's not blind people

        I'm happy someone posted about this as I was considering doing so myself. I worked for a laser R&D company in the past, and received training on the safety / hazards around coherent light.

        The use of the bright violet laser during the conference was also my primary concern. People don't realize how dangerous these potentially are.
        A really informative graph can be found of perceived vs. actual intensity of different wavelengths here on page 10:
        http://www.wickedlasers.com/image/wi..._20131113W.pdf

        Using the reference above I think it's safe to say 50mW is an exceedingly conservative estimate for the power output. In that case I believe 500mW-2W is far more likely.

        TheCotMan, your post really underscores the misunderstanding about these devices in the community. Lasers of this class are not a mere annoyance. The danger here is more equivalent to someone walking into a presentation room and waving a large knife around. Are the goons or security going to stop the person? ...of course. Could the person be a black belt trained to use it safety around people? Sure, but it's a gross safety concern. This is the same situation...

        A useful policy would be, "All lasers of X Y and X types are banned and will be permanently confiscated" ...This would be easy to identify, enforce, and understand.

        Some other ideas:
        Get someone to offer a 20 minute class / talk in laser safety.
        If i'm able to attend next year I would be willing to offer a laser-pointer testing station for common wavelengths.

        -Nastymage

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Let's not blind people

          Originally posted by Nastymage View Post
          TheCotMan, your post really underscores the misunderstanding about these devices in the community. Lasers of this class are not a mere annoyance. The danger here is more equivalent to someone walking into a presentation room and waving a large knife around. Are the goons or security going to stop the person? ...of course. Could the person be a black belt trained to use it safety around people? Sure, but it's a gross safety concern. This is the same situation...
          If there is a risk to injury, then wouldn't existing laws already apply? How would a policy be more effective at stopping assault than laws?
          (This is not meant to be antagonistic: it is meant to illustrate failures in assuming a policy will magically fix a problem, already covered by another policy (law.))

          If attendee education is the goal, no policy is needed so much as a way to educate attendees.

          Rules become challenges among those that have seen laws working against free expression, curiosity, and exploration. As was meant to illustrate, historically, even education did not stop this activity before, it only decreased the frequency of incident for a short time. Consider this: will those attacked be willing to press charges against those that attacked them or not?

          If the only suggestion to address this is, "make a policy," and is added to the suggestion thread, I can pass that along, but the likelyhood a policy would resolve this is pretty small.

          John Q. Newman gave a talk on how "our rights are being eroded by elected officials telling us we need fewer rights, to 'protect the children.'" After repeating this phrase a few times, someone in the audience yelled, "Fuck the children." Another line in discussion in the same talk was when John Q. Newman said, "you can't yell, 'FIRE!' in a crowded theater" at which point, someone in the audience yelled, "Fire!"

          At DEF CON you need to be careful what you tell people NOT to do; people will disobey because there is a rule or policy.

          Consider the population of DEF CON, really hard. Will a policy have the effect you desire, or make things worse? From my PoV, looking back at the history of DEF CON, I think a policy would make things worse. :-/

          A useful policy would be, "All lasers of X Y and X types are banned and will be permanently confiscated" ...This would be easy to identify, enforce, and understand.

          Some other ideas:
          Get someone to offer a 20 minute class / talk in laser safety.
          If i'm able to attend next year I would be willing to offer a laser-pointer testing station for common wavelengths.

          -Nastymage
          Taking someone'se property from them at DEF CON is a really dark space. We are not law enforcement. I think us taking people's stuff away would be theft, and we could probably be arrested for that if they pressed charges. (I am not a lawyer.)

          Could you describe what legal justification would allow us to steal tech from attendees?

          You are doing very well with suggestions, though! (This is NOT sarcasm.)

          Taking the step to suggest things that can be done is great! If you have more ideas, please suggest them. The greater the number of ideas, the better the chances something will be suggested that will have a really good chance of being successful at having the desired result: decreasing incidents where laser risk injury to a person.

          My comments are by no means "the last word" on any of these topics. The *only* things I help run at DEF CON are a few web resources. I do not decide on policies. I do have a bit more experience than many, and try to use that experience to help provide reasons for some ideas and suggestions to not work, and ask for more.

          Please do not misunderstand my attack on ideas as an attack on you; I want you and others to come up with more ideas, and provide these comments to see if we, as a community, can find more effective solutions than have been tried in some form, in the past. If I had ideas that I thought might work, i would suggest them.

          You both are doing better than me with at least making suggestions. Please, if you have more, I/we would like to hear them.

          Thanks!

          -Cot

          P.S. The idea of classes to educate people could be very effective. When a majority of "bad actors" are shown why a laws exists, and how they could be harming other people, most understand the reason for the law, and then choose not to commit the illegal action. (Obviously, a small percent of people are jerks, and don't care about other people, so education won't convince them to stop. I do not suggest that this is a reason to NOT educate, just point that there is a demographic that won't be influenced by education.)
          Last edited by TheCotMan; August 11, 2014, 22:47.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Let's not blind people

            Before I get started responding to this I am an engineer not a lawyer, this is not legal advice.

            Originally posted by Nastymage View Post
            The use of the bright violet laser during the conference was also my primary concern. People don't realize how dangerous these potentially are.
            A really informative graph can be found of perceived vs. actual intensity of different wavelengths here on page 10:
            http://www.wickedlasers.com/image/wi..._20131113W.pdf

            Using the reference above I think it's safe to say 50mW is an exceedingly conservative estimate for the power output. In that case I believe 500mW-2W is far more likely.
            I hope you are wrong (but given the information you provided I doubt it), lasers in that power range are incredibly dangerous.


            Originally posted by TheCotMan View Post
            If there is a risk to injury, then wouldn't existing laws already apply? How would a policy be more effective at stopping assault than laws?
            (This is not meant to be antagonistic: it is meant to illustrate failures in assuming a policy will magically fix a problem, already covered by another policy (law.))
            Lasers are regulated by the FDA, at present the law is very permissive about their use. This is how I would like to keep it! However, in order to do this we need to ensure some level of education. If the only people shining high powered lasers in crowded theaters were folks set on causing harm to others then kick them out.

            U.S.C. TITLE 18, CHAPTER 2

            Sec. 39A. Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft
            ...
            Sites like amazon self regulate what laser pointers they sell, not because of any legal requirement

            Originally posted by TheCotMan View Post
            If attendee education is the goal, no policy is needed so much as a way to educate attendees.
            I agree with Education is important to increasing the effectiveness of any policy, not a substitute for one.

            Originally posted by TheCotMan View Post
            Rules become challenges among those that have seen laws working against free expression, curiosity, and exploration. As was meant to illustrate, historically, even education did not stop this activity before, it only decreased the frequency of incident for a short time. Consider this: will those attacked be willing to press charges against those that attacked them or not?

            If the only suggestion to address this is, "make a policy," and is added to the suggestion thread, I can pass that along, but the likelyhood a policy would resolve this is pretty small.

            People like yourself.

            John Q. Newman gave a talk on how "our rights are being eroded by elected officials telling us we need fewer rights, to 'protect the children.'" After repeating this phrase a few times, someone in the audience yelled, "Fuck the children." Another line in discussion in the same talk was when John Q. Newman said, "you can't yell, 'FIRE!' in a crowded theater" at which point, someone in the audience yelled, "Fire!"

            At DEF CON you need to be careful what you tell people NOT to do; people will disobey because there is a rule or policy.

            Consider the population of DEF CON, really hard. Will a policy have the effect you desire, or make things worse? From my PoV, looking back at the history of DEF CON, I think a policy would make things worse. :-/
            The defcon shoot has been going on for years, and with a great degree of safety, one of the reasons for this is they HAVE and ENFORCE rules. The flippant attitude towards behavior that endangers attendees safety may make anarchist get a hard on but in the event harm did come to anyone from a high power laser and it could be shown defcon knew they were in use and did nothing it would open defcon up to civil liability. And I don't know about you but I would like to avoid the bad press and costs that would come from such an event.

            Originally posted by TheCotMan View Post
            Taking someone'se property from them at DEF CON is a really dark space. We are not law enforcement. I think us taking people's stuff away would be theft, and we could probably be arrested for that if they pressed charges. (I am not a lawyer.)

            Could you describe what legal justification would allow us to steal tech from attendees?
            All business, and people in this country have the right to refuse access or service to anyone for almost any reason. This means DEFCON as an organization has the right to ask someone to turn over a laser, or leave.

            -Jmaxxz

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Let's not blind people

              Originally posted by jmaxxz View Post
              [chop]
              I agree with Education is important to increasing the effectiveness of any policy, not a substitute for one.
              Do you have suggestions on how this education could work? From my PoV and experience, many of the people that abuse such technology are unlikely to read the program. Sure, it could be included in the program, but the people that read such things are least likely (gut-estimate, no real numbers) to abuse lasers.

              There is the possibility of including an explanation of the risks, and health impact to people being "shot" with lasers, especially near the eyes. If this is a suggestion, it can't be presented as:
              * You will obey us and stop it with the lasers.

              That would only encourage more abuse. It is effectively screaming, "troll us, please."

              A softer-sell might work. A short, 30 second explanation of risks to speakers, and us not wanting to see harm come to them; we want them to return to DEF CON in the future with the only damage, maybe to their liver.

              Other suggestions on method for delivery of information to the people that might abuse such tech are welcome.

              Originally posted by jmaxxz View Post
              The defcon shoot has been going on for years, and with a great degree of safety, one of the reasons for this is they HAVE and ENFORCE rules. The flippant attitude towards behavior that endangers attendees safety may make anarchist get a hard on but in the event harm did come to anyone from a high power laser and it could be shown defcon knew they were in use and did nothing it would open defcon up to civil liability. And I don't know about you but I would like to avoid the bad press and costs that would come from such an event.
              The DC Shoot has other advantages:
              1) It is a great distance to travel, raising the bar to entry, limiting scope to those that play well enough with others to share a ride, or have enough resources to get their own
              2) The people that attend often do so by planning to arrive before Wed. for the Wed shoot, and in competition of badge sales on Thursday
              3) The people that are drawn to firearms *for the most part* are law-abiding citizens (gut estimate, not real facts being cited) and respect each other's rights

              The DC Shoot before Deviant Ollam took it over was shut down for several reasons, but one of these was the appearance of people that did not respect other people's rights, which lead to "drama". At least 2 years passed before he resurrected it. It has been doing well (knock on wood) since he took it over, and resumed it after a brief period of being "cancelled."


              Originally posted by jmaxxz View Post
              All business, and people in this country have the right to refuse access or service to anyone for almost any reason. This means DEFCON as an organization has the right to ask someone to turn over a laser, or leave.
              Thanks for your ideas. Please let us know if you have more!

              -Cot

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Let's not blind people

                Back when we were at the Riviera I brought a 1W laser. I showed how it worked by shining at stars (clear of any flight paths) and could also light up a billboard a great distance away. Someone else wanted to try it, and the first target he sought was the hoods of cars passing on the road 20 floors below. When I lunged at him and took back the laser, you can tell by his expression that he had absolutely no idea what I had such a reaction. After a little education he knew better.

                Not everyone is educated. Heck I am surprised how few people actually know what L.A.S.E.R. stands for.

                Sadly with pocket lasers being $1.99 even an idiot can afford them. I can only imagine how many blind cats are out there.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Let's not blind people

                  I agree entirely that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. I was hit in the eye repeatedly with a low power laser pointer at close range by someone who thought it would be funny when I was younger. Not fun, and I suspect it was less than 5mW.

                  Let's cut to the chase- let's call high power lasers "photon guns". You wouldn't let someone wander into a crowd and wave around a pistol and then fire it a couple of times at the wall. I realize that a high power laser is less dangerous than a firearm, but it can do equally horrible things to someone's eye.

                  You don't need to "invite trolling" by making rules. This really should be a heads up notice to the red-shirt goons. If they see someone endangering the attendees around them, they should do something about it. Be that, ask them to stop, or kick them out, laser or otherwise. This should not be taken lightly.
                  @Six_Volts

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Let's not blind people

                    Originally posted by TheCotMan View Post
                    If there is a risk to injury, then wouldn't existing laws already apply? How would a policy be more effective at stopping assault than laws?
                    (This is not meant to be antagonistic: it is meant to illustrate failures in assuming a policy will magically fix a problem, already covered by another policy (law.))
                    ...
                    I did a little intro talk on infrared a couple of years ago in the hardware village (disclaimer: I was director of engineering for a smallish laser manufacturer), and one of the topics I touched on was laser myths and misconceptions, as well as dangers.

                    No lasers are "illegal"; and even "restricted" lasers aren't illegal. Here's the lowdown: the FDA regulates the sale of complete laser products. Anything deemed "dangerous" requires certain safety items, depending on the danger level. Labels, interlocks, even audible warnings. BUT...those rules only apply to "laser products". Laser components like diodes and modules are unregulated. A benchtop 10mW infrared "laser product" is regulated, a 50mW IR "module" isn't. Hook up a CR123 to said module and you've got an easy, dangerous, perfectly legal collection of parts. The FDA regs cover selling laser products, not who can possess. It's nothing like the National Firearms Act. There is no "constructive intent" or possession. Some restricted lasers, things like the M203 nighttime IR aiming systems are restricted because they don't have safety items like the audible warning. Manufacturer asks FDA for a waiver, FDA grants it only for sale to military, gov, etc, but it's nothing like the "restriction" on the M203.

                    Cheap green imported DPSS lasers scare the hell out of me. I've got plenty in the 35mW to 45mW range. Dangerous. More so since a Diode Pumped Solid State green laser really is an infrared laser pumping a magic rock. (yes really, a magic rock). The cheap e-bay green modules leak a lot of infrared; potentially damaging amounts of IR. Additionally in that kind of power range even reflections can be dangerous.

                    Even with safety gear and good sense, I still ask my eye doc to check for laser damage every year.

                    My opinion: painting a speaker or whatever with a laser should be treated like pointing an "unloaded" gun (we all know about those) at a speaker. "You're outta here!"

                    There are no laws that prevent people from obtaining and operating high powered modules. You can not judge the power or quality (the IR leakage problem) of a laser from what the beam looks like. If I were calling the shots it would be published that anyone caught painting people with a laser is tossed. I doubt the goons would be happy if I was carrying around a hyper realistic airsoft or "model" AR and pointing it at people because you just can't tell the difference. Same thing with lasers; it's a threat, you can't tell how bad, so just don't do it.
                    TSA luvs my Uzi.

                    "We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time." -T.S. Eliot

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Let's not blind people

                      this is really informative. i, for one, don't know nearly as much about lasers as others who have commented... but even i was getting a little uneasy when seeing blue and violet dots on the walls.

                      while Cot points out that there can really be no policy of "confiscation" since we do not have that power, i think that DEF CON would be well within its rights and ethically solid to have the policy of "if the goons see something unsafe they will tell you to stop and if you don't they will tell you to leave" also apply to unsafe use of lasers.

                      thus, no "new" policy would be needed... we already have a policy that covers this and it works very well. what would only be needed is a little more education on the part of attendees (handled by a note in the program? so no one can say "it wasn't specified! i didn't know!" etc etc) and a note added to the Security Goon briefings so they will be a little more on the lookout, etc.

                      i also really really love the idea of the Laser Checking Station. of course, there are all kinds of issues relating to "how do you staff it" etc etc but overall i love that. the MOST extreme way that things could go, logistically, would be to even have some kind of "declared DEF CON safe" sticker (maybe a nice tamper evident one, hehe) that staff at the Laser Checking Station could affix to a pointer if someone asks. (this could all be a spot in the Hardware Village, i think, actually)

                      thus, if Goons see someone being a jackwagon with a laser pointer they engage that attendee and there are a few options for making the situation right...

                      1. attendee says "sorry, it won't happen again" and puts it away and stops being a douche

                      2. attendee and a Goon go to the laser checking station and test the laser to see if it actually safe and not posing a hazard to anyone

                      3. attendee has already taken the time themselves to stop by the Hardware Village and use the Laser Checking Station and has gotten a sticker or tag for their pointer, they show the Goon, and no one gets reprimanded... but perhaps they are reminded that they're being a little goofy and could expect more interventions if they don't tone it down

                      4. attendee says "i'm not walking all the way over there to blah blah blah plus this is totally safe because i say so, so fuck off" and the Goons can say "well, we have no way to validate your claims, so please either assure us it won't happen again or you can hand it over" (the attendee is voluntarily handing it over, no one is confiscating anything)

                      5. attendee is a total dick and/or it keeps happening from the same person (a previous Option #1 person, let's say) ... then the Goons are totally right, in my mind, to take someone's DEF CON badge and eject them. the only way to avoid that would be if the person really really pleads and also surrenders their laser pointer (or says, "you know what... i'm sorry, you're right, and if you give me a chance i'll go immediately to the checking station right now) and only if the nearby Goons are feeling kind is that an option, etc.


                      Now, i realize, the idea of a "this laser has been declared DEF CON safe" sticker has a couple of issues...

                      I. there's a cost involved, the idea of controlling the supply year to year, do we make separate ones every year, etc.

                      II. would people try to steal them/clone them/copy them/or -most likely- tamper-lift a sticker from a "safe" laser to place it on an "unsafe" one

                      III. biggest issue, really... asking people to mark their personal property in some way that is a bit permanent. i know that at gun shows it's customary to have a bright colored barrel flag or zip tie through the action, but those are not permanent. i also have heard that among cosplay folks, security staff and con policies are REALLY fucking stupid and i'd hate for things to drift in that direction.

                      (for those who don't know, someone recently told me about the concept of "peace binding" any decorative items or anything that could potentially be "dangerous"... this topic came up when someone talked to me about the idea of selling lockpicks at an anime show. it's the absolute height of sopping wet douchebaggery what people at these anime shows go through. giant bullshit stickers or zip ties getting slapped hard onto the most comedic and laughably non-real of "weapons" just to make a lot of Nancy Piss-Pants people feel "safe" or some such. I realize i'm being overly-critical, but when I read the policy that was in place i nearly threw up. I don't EVER want DEF CON to veer toward that kind of territory)
                      "I'll admit I had an OiNK account and frequented it quite often… What made OiNK a great place was that it was like the world's greatest record store… iTunes kind of feels like Sam Goody to me. I don't feel cool when I go there. I'm tired of seeing John Mayer's face pop up. I feel like I'm being hustled when I visit there, and I don't think their product is that great. DRM, low bit rate, etc... OiNK it existed because it filled a void of what people want."
                      - Trent Reznor

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