Shock tactics

When I was a new mother, many parents chose to put “harnesses” on their children. These were nothing more elaborate than leather bobs to which straps were attached.

Worn by a child, they could be used by a parent to ensure that the child never strayed further than an extended arm’s length from the parent. I never liked them, so I never used them; I just considered them the human equivalent of dog lead.

These days, things are rather more sophisticated. Children wear a GPS locket or bracelet so that their parents know where they are at all times – and yet, they cannot be reeled in, if they go ‘out of bounds’, as used to be the case with harnesses.

So if the alert sounds, you have to heave yourself out of your hammock and catch the child before he crosses the street to go to the ice-cream van just because he thinks you are asleep and won’t notice. The latest variation on this theme is alas, a sign of the times.

Per Hahne, who has taken his invention to a weapons corporation near Toronto in Canada for production, insists that it is innocuous – I disagree. Lampered Less Lethal is manufacturing what can only be called a “shocking bracelet”. It works by delivering a shock akin to that of a Taser gun. This is the stun gun that was in the news of late, capable of killing healthy young people, let alone anyone who is not in peak health condition. In some countries it is considered a potentially lethal form of torture, and therefore barred.

The theory that it leaves no “permanent injury” cuts o ice. Who is to say what happens to people who have a history of heart disease?

Mr Hahne, an ex-airline pilot, insists that there is a need for his invention, because it sets people mind at rest. In tended to be used by passengers on air flights, this bracelet is just an item of Bling until the need to activate it kicks in; then, it becomes a weapon in the hands of whoever holds the remote control.

Basically, the item is an electronic ID device that tracks the movements, suspicious or otherwise, of airplane travellers. It also holds personal information (i.e. it cannot be bartered with that of the passenger in your neighbouring seat)… and can stun anyone into immobility when triggered. It would be in lieu of a ticket, and also track one’s carry-on luggage. One would have to wear it until disembarkation.

This means that any hijacker attempting a plane take over would not be able to carry it through. Presumably, armed with this knowledge, the rest of the passengers on board any given flight would sleep easy in their reclining seats, without having to wonder whether there was an Air Marshal in disguise amongst them.

Playing on emotions, the inventor insinuated that people who refuse to wear the bracelet would prove that they had “something to hide” from the rest of the passengers. He said that making wearing them mandatory would pay for itself quickly, and save billions of dollars into the bargain. 1984 has returned with a vengeance. This is the stuff of science fiction – Sylvester Stallone and Rutger Hauer types with explosive collars around their necks aimed at preventing them from escaping high-security prisons, or wreaking havoc on a futuristic flight of inmates bound for some penal colony on the God-forsaken fifteenth planet from the Sun.

And what if something goes wrong? What if another electronic device – even a mobile telephone – somehow triggered off the “stunning” bracelet? What if someone hacked into the force field of the device and made them all go off at once? “It is better to be safe than sorry”, says the adage. But here, being made to wear one of these bracelets means you are being hailed as potentially guilty before being given the chance to prove you are innocent. The mechanism to activate the bracelets would be in the hands of the crew – but what if one terrorist did manage to grab that apparatus himself by seizing a flight attendant? Forget humming the song about going to Barbados.

Victoria Beckham was recently caught short (i.e. un-posh, in airline-issue pyjamas) when her flight was aborted because the plane engine swallowed a bird. Our worries, should we choose to fly, will be much worse. We will have to assume, if we are “made” to wear this thin gummy-jig, that our flight has a better than average chance of being hi-jacked. Incidentally – how does an air hostess, given the stress hormones bouncing around her system during a hi-jacking incident, aim her activator properly?

Could she, by ‘accident’ stun half a dozen passengers instead the person posing a threat? Suicide combers act with the surprise factor in their favour; and I doubt how many stewards will be that on-the-ball to stop them in their tracks. If hand-luggage and baggage-compartment suitcases are correlated with the data on a bracelet – what happens when, inevitably, a piece of luggage goes astray? Are alarms triggered off? Is the person whose luggage is lost, through no fault of his own, automatically assumed as having abandoned it?

What about the fact that wearing a tight bracelet for any length of time, especially on an aeroplane effects the circulation? Making it lose, on the other hand would enable one to slip rubber, aluminium foil, or gel in order to interfere with the signals emanating from the skin to the device.

And, the way things are going, insult will almost certainly be added to injury because the passengers will probably be made to pay for their own virtual incarceration… Perhaps it is time to smile, and remember the gentlest of all control devices worn on the wrist. You know, those scratch-and-smell, turquoise sticking plasters that you smell whenever you feel like something sweet – which, however, do not spoil your appetite for salt cod, pretzels, Twistees, olives, and bigilla…

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