Homeland Security Starts Banning Laptops & Tablets On Planes From The Middle East

from the that-is-going-to-piss-off-a-lot-of-people dept

It’s been a very long time since I last flew somewhere without my laptop. I actually am more productive than usual on planes, and I tend to use flying time to just focus in and get a ton of stuff done. I can’t even begin to explain how ridiculously frustrating it would be to find out that I wouldn’t be allowed to bring a laptop onto a plane, and yet it appears that our new Homeland Security overlords have put in place new restrictions on flights to the US from certain countries in the middle east barring tablets and laptops from the cabin (apparently no American carriers are impacted — just foreign ones). Passengers are being told to check such things (which is odd, since normally you’re not supposed to check lithium ion batteries…). Flights from 13 countries are being hit with this, and Homeland Security won’t give any further explanation beyond the usual “national security.” And, just this morning, the UK announced that it would be doing the same thing.

Homeland Security has been hinting that this is due to some sort of specific threat — so it sounds like there’s intelligence around a planned attack using such a device. Perhaps then the extra precaution is sensible. But, once again, this feels like a form of overkill security theater: inconveniencing basically everyone (to extreme levels) based on the slight possibility of a very small number of bad actors. There has to be a better way. Every time one of these new restrictions is put in place, it not only completely inconveniences people, but it shows people that if they somehow convince the scaredy cats at DHS of some new type of threat, they can inconvenience people even more. It’s almost as if each additional inconvenience is impacting things way more than an actual exploding laptop or whatever might.

Of course, it should be no surprise that former TSA boss Kip Hawley, is now running around arguing that this is no big deal and Wired is happy to tell everyone to calm down and just “buy a book.” But that’s kind of crazy — especially for people who have important or sensitive information on their laptops and don’t want to hand them off to baggage carriers with a history of snooping through bags and stealing expensive electronics.

Also, since this is limited to just a few Middle Eastern airports, it’s not hard to think that if there are terrorists planning something, they’ll just head to different airports instead. Yes, I’m sure that someone saw something that they thought was a threat, and it’s reasonable to put in place plans that try to minimize some of that risk. But it has to take into account the cost side too, and there has to be a better way to deal with it than such a blanket ban impacting so many people.

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Comments on “Homeland Security Starts Banning Laptops & Tablets On Planes From The Middle East”

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53 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Makes Sense

This was a month and a half ago – U.S. airlines were directly lobbying Trump about these state supported middle eastern airlines:

https://theintercept.com/2017/02/09/airline-competition-trump/

To me, this is the only explanation so far that makes logical sense, no matter how boneheaded it seems from a strategic standpoint (or from the standpoint of having the govt directly meddle in business affairs like fascist regimes of the 30’s, ugh).

This rule will decimate their high value bookings. Doesn’t do a thing for safety (as Lockerbie showed the cargo hold isn’t a good place for explosives) and only affects airlines with hubs in these countries (no U.S. non-stops from any of these places). This is an economic / political attack on these airlines and their supporting governments (for whatever reason the admin has latched on to).

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: The real reason.

What it makes me wonder is this:

They say they must search people’s electronics at the border, even those of US citizens, because such searches are vital for preventing terrorism.

So then they take a list of the ten countries most likely to send a terrorist our way…and prevent them from bringing electronics with them to be searched?

Which is it, I wonder?

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

Pilots not exempt!

Fun fact. These days pilots use iPads instead of a 50lb bag of paper charts. Nothing in the current instructions exempts those pilots. While it obviously means airlines and package services (UPS, FedEx) can’t fly their pilots out to these places it’s actually even worse.

If the affected airline’s own pilots are exempted they will have to start carrying that extra 50lb bag, and go back to old paper charts. So, best case is pilots considering US trips to be crap duty. Worst case is the latest paper charts haven’t been sent to the pilots, so they just can’t fly the route. There are in between options, but that’s a best/worst case scenario if pilots tools are actually banned.

Theoden says:

All your datas belong to us

I see this as more of an attempt to get people to accept that checking laptops and tablets is ‘normal’ so that when it is rolled out to all flights, foreign and domestic, there will be fewer complaints.

I mean, if they are going to wait for US citizens to get to the Constitution-free borders before they can grab a device and download the data, they will miss out on all of the people who never travel to the borders. This way the government can get all the data they want while the passengers are separated from their devices for extended periods of time.

Sasparilla says:

Re: Re: Re:

This theory falls apart when you consider that people can still bring their smartphones in (and do just as much hacking if they were inclined with those).

It’s hard to see the angle on this, the rule falls apart when looked at critically. Its definitely an economic weapon (meant or as a side effect) – all these airlines high value customers (1st, business and full fare coach) will flee immediately. Much of economy coach will flee as well. Alot of these airlines have big stakes by their own governments in them so this will affect them directly – their governments must be furious.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Profiling is just security theater for racists to give them the psychological benefits of the security theater without having to actually be inconvenienced by it. I mean it’s not like they can recruit people who don’t fit the profile or anything! Lets continue harassing dark skinned men with long beards despite the fact step one on the martyrdom path is to shave their beards to blend in. While terrorists may not usually be smart they aren’t as dumb as you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Assuming the ban is for a credible threat, I expect to see the following as a result:
-it is only temporary
-after it is removed at least the government will do a study about the cost impact
-a valid justification was established that eventually will be releasable to the public.

Now only one of those will any of us probably ever see and that is that the order is temporary.

I hope saner minds are backing orders like this but who knows with this current administration.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Could see this if the flights were originating in the U.S. and the U.S. got (illicit) access to the checked bags prior to the flights, but they don’t.

The U.S. only gets access to the laptops checked or carry-on when the flights land here in the U.S. and the people go through customs – this rule doesn’t change that.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If the concern is that the electronic devices may contain concealed bombs (or that there may be a plan to assemble components from such devices into a bomb mid-flight), as I’ve seen consistely reported is the case, why would it be appropriate for there to be an exception for such “coming back after a quick visit” cases?

Anonymous Coward says:

Threat analysis

1. This can’t be an attempt to keep information out.

2. This could be an attempt to deal with an explosive threat — the devices’ batteries. But then why allow them on the plane at all?

3. This could be an attempt to deal with an electronic or computer threat — perhaps EMI deliberately generated to disrupt a plane’s avionics. That might explain why the ban applies to tablets and laptops: they have larger batteries than cellphones and are thus capable of powering devices generating more output.

4. This could be a head fake designed to fool an adversary into thinking that defenders have misidentified the threat. (Meanwhile, behind the scenes, defenders are dealing with the actual threat.) I’d like to believe this one, as it suggests a high level of competence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Threat analysis

1-3 would make sense if this is applied to U.S. carrier flights (i.e. all flights) from these countries to the U.S., but it doesn’t. Walk over to the Delta counter and get a nonstop to JFK and take your laptop / tablet with you in the cabin. Just these few airlines located in these territories.

Now on the let the govt start meddling with the business side of things like certain govt models that were popular in the 1930’s – U.S. airlines do not like how these airlines are often directly government owned and supported in these places – and their bookings will be decimated by this. Could this just be a economic attack on these airlines (sending a message to their governments perhaps) by this administration? As dumb as that idea seems, it seems much more plausible IMHO.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Unintended consequences

(assuming the threat is real)

Thanks to the vagueness of the threat claim, we now have a very public massively-crowdsourced effort to figure out how laptops and Kindles could be dangerous in a cabin but not in a hold, while phones would be fine either way.

Along the way someone will figure it out, then find a way to make phones equally as dangerous, at which point say goodbye to all electronics in-flight.

We’d be forced to go back to paper and pencil. But pencils are very pointy, so we’d probably have to stick to crayons. But crayons could contain all sorts of scary ingredients, so we could only bring on-board TSA-approved crayons purchased post-security. Or possibly only in-flight, just to be safe.

Upon reflection, I’ve changed my mind. These don’t sound like unintended consequences after all.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Unintended consequences

Or you don’t fly to the countries that implement that bullshit. Not that they aren’t taking financial damage with this bs but once it’s visible in direct numbers (drop in tourism, business trips, business deals struck with the US etc) this will be scaled back.

Of course once you consider how much is being spent in this futility alone you should get a pretty decent losses number for starters.

Personanongrata says:

DHS/TSA Security Theater Act IV Scene III

Homeland Security Starts Banning Laptops & Tablets On Planes From The Middle East

If a person is dedicated and willing to give their life in pursuit of their cause what is to stop them from placing explosives in a body cavity (eg rectum or vagina)?

How does TSA’s ridiculously inane Liquids Rule which limits a persons carry on containers to 3.4 ounces or less per container, taking your shoes off, being gate raped by or the banning of electronic gear prevent a person from secreting an explosive in a body cavity before flying?

Is the next Act in DHS/TSA security theater involve body cavity searches for all passengers?

All these searches accomplish is to condition people into accepting greater and greater levels of US government intrusion into their lives as the price they must pay for "security".

All the security in the world will not stop a determined person who is willing to give their life in support of their cause.

Total security does not exist, it has never existed but total enslavement in the name of safety can be our dystopian reality and the criminals operating within the US government are working night/day to bring this nightmare to life.

To end TSA’s tyranny at the airport boycott flying early and boycott flying often.

There was a time in this nations not so distant past when a person could go to the airport show no identification purchase a one way ticket with cash and board an aircraft without being molested by US government cretins.

Security theater at the airport is but another mechanism for control that has been set into place by the tyranny loving fractions of Americans who infest the US government and are keen on controlling you and your family.

Cast off the repressive yoke of a criminal US government.

The only way the tax feeding cretins of the US government can revoke your unalienable rights is if you let them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: DHS/TSA Security Theater Act IV Scene III

If enough people did as you bid then TSA and the airlines would simply scale back the number of available flights to match demand. Take that far enough and soon there won’t be any flights to take. We’ll all be stranded here initially by choice and later by a lack of travel options.

That solves nothing. Vote your position into office — potentially more effective without the loss of mobility. That or buy your own jet and private runway.

Anonymous Coward says:

In other news...

Mysteriously, a large number of Riyadh baggage handlers resign. Management calls in American contractors to cover the absence.

In other other news, greater than normal losses of luggage reported by travelers flying from Riyadh King Khalid International Airport. Reports indicate a ring of electronics thieves.

And in other^3 news, we’ve received reports of a ‘welcome home’ party for returning CIA personnel on Saturday.

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