Larry Summers' Open-Mic Moment

The president's former economic adviser cries federal overreach at the idea of turning your BlackBerry off on an airplane.

National Journal

Either Larry Summers is trying out some open-mic material or he's just a teensy bit lacking in self-awareness.

At a Center for American Progress event in Washington on Thursday he took shots at the public sector, suggesting that laws to prevent airline passengers from keeping their BlackBerrys on during takeoff and landing is an example of federal overreach.

"I can tell you that my wealthy friends who own airplanes — they don't turn their BlackBerrys off," said the former economic adviser to President Obama, who recently abandoned a bid for chair of the Federal Reserve following accusations from the left of being overly anti-regulation. "I can tell you that the Secret Service does not go running around checking people's BlackBerrys on Air Force One."

The punchline: "If we want to renew faith in the public sector we've got to be open to fixing things like that."

There are parts of the Federal Administration Authority's "everything must be switched off" rule that could be relaxed and, indeed, earlier this fall an advisory panel completed recommendations to ease many of the restrictions (reading e-books, listening to podcasts, and watching videos are now officially OK). But the ban on texting and emailing, or making phone calls during takeoff or landing, remains in place because it turns out that, like many of the regulations we plebeians must follow, there are reasons those rules are in place.

As aviation expert and New York Times columnist Christine Negroni wrote recently, there actually have been cases of pilots reporting electronic devices interfering with flight systems, and to date there is no scientific study by NASA dismissing concerns about the use of electronic devices on airplanes. Hamza Bendemra made a similar point in Life Hacker this summer in an article titled "Why You Still Have To Switch Your Mobile Phone Off On Planes." The takeaway point: It's not worth the risk.

And another thing: Who still uses BlackBerrys?

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Summers abandoned a bid for secretary of the Treasury. He abandoned a bid for chair of the Federal Reserve.