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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  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 10:52am

    It is worse then what the article mentions. When have you ever heard of them scaling back a security measure? No laptops and tablets will be the norm from those countries till the heat death of the Universe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Avatar28 (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:27am

      Re:

      Well the US rule has a sunset clause, it's only for 96 hours. Not to say that they definitely won't extend it but for the moment it is set to expire (which also suggests a specific threat they were reacting to).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:57am

        Re: Re:

        As if a terrorist could not delay their plan by a week or two.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 12:40pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Keep in mind that one of the USG's 'anti-terrorist' methods depends upon the assumption that it's impossible to change your name, so the idea that it's similarly impossible to delay an action/attack would be par for the course.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2017 @ 5:22am

        Re: Re:

        This is from the Ars article on the topic:

        Airlines have 96 hours to comply with the new directives, which will be in effect indefinitely.

        So it seems it will start within 96 hours of the announcement and end never.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 10:53am

    Makes Sense

    Makes sense given the apparent thinking of the current administration.

    If you can't outright ban 'em from coming here, then at least punish them for making the trip.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2017 @ 7:30am

      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).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sorrykb (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 10:58am

    Another possible explanation is that this is about economic protectionism rather than actual protection against terrorism. ...

    Or maybe this is just one more cynical ploy to hurt travelers from Muslim-majority countries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:01am

    The real reason.

    Laptop searches has not gotten us any intelligence information, so we will make travel to the US as annoying and inconvenient for people from that region as possible. Sooner or latter they will get the message, and stop visiting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 4:17pm

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Arthur Moore (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:22am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Theoden, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:23am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:31am

    Food for thought: physical access is root access.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Scote, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:31am

    I'm not getting why these devices are ok in checked baggage if they are too dangerous to be in the cabin...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 2:07pm

      Re:

      I'm not getting why these devices are ok in checked baggage if they are too dangerous to be in the cabin...

      Have they forgotten Lockerbie? In reponse to that they instituted the exact opposite rule.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PlagueSD (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:34am

    How else is TSA going to get "free" ipads. Sarcasm aside, you and I both know the "real" reason they are doing this. It's so they can image any device they want when they open the bag to "inspect" it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:39am

      Re:

      My own thought is the ban is a result of Trump hearing about how easy it is to hack a plane from the cabin because the wireless network isn't always physically isolated from the flight control system network.

      The ability to isolate people from electronics is probably a bonus.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Sasparilla, 22 Mar 2017 @ 6:08am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AC, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:36am

    "There has to be a better way."

    There is, but profiling is bad, mmm'kay?

    If you can't just target the bad guys*, you have to target everyone. Get used to it.

    *if you have to have who this is explained to you, never mind, you just wouldn't understand anyways.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:39am

      Re:

      Oh, did we go back to dog whistles?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 4:04pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 5:03pm

      Re:

      They don't let you use the sharp scissors yet, do they?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:37am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:42am

    > 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.

    Hit the nail on the head. This is for interdiction pure and simple.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2017 @ 6:23am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 12:19pm

    This is all pure BS but that's just repeating the obvious and tired argument. So I'll leave that to others and ask one thing: what if you left the US to one of those countries (say, to cover some news) and then you come back after a few days? Is there any mention to those cases or it's just a blunt ban?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 22 Mar 2017 @ 6:06am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2017 @ 6:26am

        Re: Re:

        If this is really the concern (bombing of a flight), wouldn't the terrorists be targeting U.S. carriers anyways? (U.S. carrier flights originating from these countries are exempt from this if I understand this correctly..this makes no sense from a security standpoint)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2017 @ 7:16am

          Re: Re: Re:

          U.S. Carriers do not have direct non stop flights from these airports, so their flights would not be affected. This affects the airlines that have hubs in these countries - which are typically govt owned / supported.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Altaree, 21 Mar 2017 @ 12:20pm

    A threat created by bagage handler unions?

    Why didn't the just include jewelry and cash in the list? Then all the items you are never supposed to check would be in one place and available for Mr Sticky Fingers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christenson, 21 Mar 2017 @ 12:23pm

    TSA

    TSA = Terrorist Security Agency!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 12:44pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2017 @ 6:34am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sorrykb (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 12:53pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sorrykb (profile), 21 Mar 2017 @ 1:07pm

      Re: Unintended consequences

      What if this is all a trick by Big In-Flight Movie to force us to pay for their crap?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 6:28pm

        Re: Re: Unintended consequences

        Or, just place a copy of George Orwell's 1984 in each seat back pocket. It's like a looking glass letting you know what to expect the next time you fly.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 22 Mar 2017 @ 4:13am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 21 Mar 2017 @ 1:23pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 2:36pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 1:51pm

    Why is this not being called a Muslim ban on electronics?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2017 @ 7:40pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Châu, 21 Mar 2017 @ 11:22pm

    Tourism

    This part of big plan for destroy US's tourism industry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2017 @ 2:22am

    Net Result

    Zero increase in security. Vast increase in "f@%& you, Muslim - stay home" factor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Always Wanderlust (profile), 22 Mar 2017 @ 3:33pm

    Ridiculous!

    Talk about racial profiling. This is ridiculous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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