Use of mobile phones and wireless Internet devices should be prohibited on commercial aircraft unless law-enforcement officials can conduct real-time surveillance on the communications, representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told the House Subcommittee on Aviation yesterday.

The focus of law enforcement’s concerns is that terrorists could use wireless devices to communicate plans to hijack an airplane or remotely activate an explosive device on an aircraft. To combat this threat, DOJ and DHS asked that network operators provide law enforcement with the ability to conduct real-time surveillance.

According to multiple reports, the surveillance powers requested for passengers’ wireless airplane communications would exceed those included in the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which governs surveillance of terrestrial telecommunications technologies. Approval of law enforcement’s request concern airplane-based communications could establish a precedent that would lead to the revamping of terrestrial communication surveillance laws, according to some stories.

As part of an open proceeding, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is studying whether wireless devices can be used on airplanes without interfering with the aircraft’s navigation and communication abilities. Even if that study, expected to be finished next year, concludes there is not an interference problem, the FAA is expected to continue prohibiting the use of wireless devices because of the security concerns.