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Security

Twitter-joking security expert barred from another United flight, lawyer says

Technically Incorrect: Chris Roberts, who was removed from a United flight by the FBI earlier this week, is now prevented from boarding another United plane.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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It seems that United isn't happy about Chris Roberts being on its planes. Planesguy/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It seems that joking about messing with the security systems on a United Airlines flight might be asking for more trouble than you imagine.

Earlier this week, computer security researcher Chris Roberts was removed from a United flight by the FBI. His transgression was to have tweeted: "Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? "PASS OXYGEN ON" Anyone ? :)"

For those who don't speak this peculiar strain of English, he was jesting that he could hack into the communication systems of the plane and even make the oxygen masks appear.

At the time, neither United nor the FBI commented on Roberts's removal. However, his new lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation declared on Saturday that their client had just been removed from another flight. Or, rather prevented from boarding it, despite already having his boarding pass and clearing TSA checks.

The EFF's Andrew Crocker told me: "Roberts was told to expect a letter explaining the reasons for not being allowed to travel on United. He was flying from Colorado to SFO. United has already said that they would provide a refund."

Roberts was on his way to speak at the RSA Conference. He managed to securely board a Southwest Airlines flight to make his trip.

I have contacted United to ask for details of Roberts' flight status and will update, should I hear. His lawyers say that he still hasn't had his laptop and other devices returned to him by the FBI after the first incident.

At the time, Roberts admitted to CNN that in his tweet he'd been "probably a little more blunt than I should have been."

The EFF described this latest incident as "disappointing and confusing." It added: "As a member of the security research community, his [Roberts'] job is to identify vulnerabilities in networks so that they can be fixed."

This might be true, though some will wonder whether a tweet is the finest way to expose those alleged vulnerabilities.