DHS To Expand Foreign Laptop Ban If Overseas Airlines Won't Make Their Security More Theatrical

from the speak-loudly-and-keep-swinging-that-stick dept

The DHS and TSA are just going to keep making things worse. Despite there being almost no evidence of terrorists targeting planes, the DHS is looking to expand its laptop ban to cover even more incoming flights from foreign airports.

The Trump administration said Wednesday it will ban large electronics on flights to the United States altogether — on board, and in checked bags — unless airlines comply with new directives to ramp up passenger and baggage screening.

The mandate, announced by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, would affect 280 last-point-of-departure airports and as many as 2,000 daily international flights to the United States and potentially throw a huge wrench into business travelers' plans.

The original plan only targeted 10 airports -- mostly in the Middle East. This expansion would cause even more passengers to either leave their laptops/tablets behind, as this ban would prevent them from being placed in checked luggage.

What the DHS is looking for is transplanted security theater performances by foreign airline personnel. Not much was explicitly listed in DHS head John Kelly's speech on Wednesday, but a few DHS officials offered to fill the factual gaps in Kelly's rhetoric.

DHS officials said the agency is broadly pushing airlines and airports to "take the next step" in beefing up security — meaning using more canine teams, adopting more advanced screening technology and enrolling in a Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance inspection program.

And, as always, the burden will be borne by travelers. Airlines are being given some time to make these changes, but there doesn't appear to be a hard deadline for compliance. If foreign airlines don't live up to the DHS's expectations, passengers will presumably be informed about the fate of their electronic devices after they've already taken them to the airport. The DHS encourages foreign travelers to keep themselves apprised of these changes, but doesn't say how they're supposed to obtain this information when making travel plans. All that's being recommended is staying in "close contact" with their airline of choice, which sounds like the sort of pen pal relationship no one's in any hurry to engage in.

European officials are trying to stay on top of the DHS's constantly-shifting demands -- not out of fear of terrorist attacks, but because the laptop ban itself would make flying less safe.

European Commission officials have been especially vocal about their wish to avoid the ban and have repeatedly pointed out the fire risks associated with stacking laptops with flammable lithium batteries in planes' cargo holds…

I guess that's why Kelly wants a total ban. That solves the exploding battery problem, but does nothing for thousands of non-terrorists who need to bring their work with them when visiting the US.

There's no room for logic in security theater. What the US determines to be security best practices will be foisted on the rest of the world -- even though there's nothing in the history of the DHS and TSA suggesting faster, harder "security" will do anything more than irritate travelers.


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  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 3:44am

    This is something where I'm expecting some serious pushback. Apart from the near-zero evidence that such an attack is imminent, there's a lot of money riding on people using laptops. Not just from the airlines, who I believe make a large amount of money from people buying business class specifically to allow them to work while flying. But, from all the business and governments who stand to lose a great deal if such things are not possible.

    Plus, the fact that stacking batteries in the hold actually reduces safety can't be understated. I do hope that sense prevails, but that's certainly not something that's evident with the current US government.

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

    • icon
      Berenerd (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 4:37am

      Re:

      The sad thing is, anyone who has taken any science class ever would know you don't need an electronic device to bring down an airplane. The right small amounts of chemicals and a way to combine them in flight is all that is needed. Unless the government is going to ban all baggage or anyone who mishandles a bag in the smallest ways from the airport, you will always have a way to do it.

      Now that I am on the nofly list, maybe my company will hire a personal driver for me when they want me to go traveling for work.

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 4:58am

        Re: Re:

        I'm sure that actual terrorists with any knowledge and competence already know all of this. They're just playing with the authorities at this point to see how many rights can be stripped from travellers without them having to lift a finger. They're not even having to perform successful attacks before the more damaging reaction is made.

        "Now that I am on the nofly list, maybe my company will hire a personal driver for me when they want me to go traveling for work."

        That won't be of much help for international travellers from other continents. Though, it may help localise activity and convince some companies to concentrate on business actions outside the US.

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

        • icon
          Richard (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 5:38am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Though, it may help localise activity and convince some companies to concentrate on business actions outside the US.

          You assume that the EU/UK won't be stupid enough to do something similar.

          This is actually the way that the terrorist win. There is a level of security theatre that risks collapsing western economies to the point where weaker actors can actually take over - scary!

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

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 7:13am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "You assume that the EU/UK won't be stupid enough to do something similar."

            The EU are actually fighting against this.

            "This is actually the way that the terrorist win."

            Actually, this is correct. Despite the label being clear, some people seem to think that terrorism is just about killing people. It's not. It's about affecting political and societal change through fear. Every time something like this is used to reduce the rights of people through the fear of a future attack, they literally win their cause.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 6:13am

        Re: Re:

        The "Lockerbie bombing" was supposedly (officially) done by an explosive-packed radio that went undetected through a carry-on X-ray machine. Apparently, electronics cause a kind of visual smokescreen on the agent's xray monitor that allows banned items to be slipped in undetected.

        Or maybe that's just a parallel construction considered fit for public consumption, and the real facts being something else entirely.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 6:50am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It wasn't carry on it was in the cargo hold, it is in fact the reason the designed blast resistant cargo containers, which most airlines do not us and are not required to.

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 10:17am

      Re:

      Plus, the fact that stacking batteries in the hold actually reduces safety can't be understated.

      You missed the detail: the rules are no laptops on planes, period. Not in the cabin, not in the hold. Nothing. Sorry, laptops can't go on the plane at all. Good luck.

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

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 30 Jun 2017 @ 3:51am

    Hopefully, the airports will invest in some real theatre.
    This way, the passengers will at least be entertained in the ensueing longer queues.
    /s

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

  • identicon
    ryuugami, 30 Jun 2017 @ 3:57am

    This approach may actually work.

    Just think about it: increasingly stupid demands will drastically reduce the number of people going to the US for business or pleasure, which will make monitoring for terrorists much more viable.

    It's easier to find a bad guy if you have ten people a day entering the US instead of tens of thousands! Brilliant!

    Finally, once everyone sane stops going to the US, you can just arrest the few people who want to come for being clearly insane.

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

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 8:47am

      Re:

      There's also the possibility that it will result in an embargo on flights into or out of the US, sooner or later. With travel rates at zero, you can be assured that no terrorists will be flying in or out.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 4:18am

    The island that is the US

    Will soon realize that a lot of it's power was not coming from people that were scared of them, but of people that admired them...

    So sad!

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

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 8:48am

      Re: The island that is the US

      If all the other countries in the world fear us sufficiently, they will have the means to conquer us. They already do have the ability to do so, they just don't have the motivation.

      Apparently, no one ever told the US government that being a rogue state has consequences.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 8:53am

      Re: The island that is the US

      ... and as the last significant external enemies were vanquished, the leaders of the once great nation had become addicted to conquest and craved an everlasting hunger to exercise authority over their adversaries, requesting absolute submission. They may have realized their politics had created a military and paramilitary industry that could not easily be decommissioned. They were riding the back of the proverbial tiger.

      So it comes as no surprise that in time, seeking ever new adversaries, this apparatus started applying that dogma to their own populace, submitting them to ever harsher rules and restrictions, limiting their freedom and recording their activities in the name of security ...

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

  • identicon
    John, 30 Jun 2017 @ 4:50am

    I seem to remember that shortly after 9/11 the amount of business travel both in and to the US dropped significantly and the airlines suffered enormously. IIRC, they were doing fairly well up until that time.

    The business I worked for at the time, often sent people to the US and Europe for business, and after 9/11 a board level decision was made to preference electronic meetings instead. Lots of telephone conferences, as well as video cons.

    If this goes through, and laptops and the like are banned, businesses will revert to skype and the like rather than expensive travel. As for tourism, I tend to travel with a laptop so I can keep in touch, download photos from my camera, and general geek.

    Bet the airlines and hotel industry won't be happy with this.

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

    • icon
      Avantare (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 8:22am

      Re:

      "...businesses will revert to skype and the like..."

      And you can bet the cable industry will start charging these companies for priority access.

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

      • icon
        stderric (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 3:54pm

        Re: Re:

        And you can bet the cable industry will start charging these companies for priority access.

        We can't let surcharges on people who don't fly give the cable companies any more power. It's time to start campaigning for Jet Neutrality: somebody call John Oliver!

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

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 10:56am

      Re:

      I was just about to say this.

      When will the airlines step up and say enough is enough? They already went through a huge slump after 9/11, so how will this ban affect business travelers? Will companies decide it's not worth the hassle of shipping laptops (or having them confiscated by TSA agents)?
      So instead of flying their business people everywhere, more companies will opt for Skype or video calls.

      On the other hand, maybe the airlines won't do anything, then they'll watch their business drop, and then cry to the government that they need to be bailed out.

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

  • icon
    Joseph (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 5:25am

    This is yet another knee jerk reaction to nothing tangible. Even if it is true, it is something only a small minded bureaucrat would come up with. I take my laptop everywhere, even on vacation due to the fact that I may need to log in to a server or clients computer to fix an issue, plus it is my lifeline to e-mail. A cell phone is a horrible alternative to a laptop. Plus I would never check my laptop unless the airline would pay me a significant amount of money if it was lost. It would cost me thousands to get a new laptop shipped to me the same day and all configured. So many items are stolen from luggage every day, if this was in effect then I guaranty that it would be open season on our luggage. If I would not be able to fly with my laptop, I would find another way to travel or not travel overseas anymore. It is just not an option for me.

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

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 5:37am

    This should drive a lot of innovation...

    ... in the Video Conference world. Lots of new software and hardware to eliminate the need to travel to the US...

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

    • icon
      Eldakka (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 1:40pm

      Re: This should drive a lot of innovation...

      Assuming businesses don't start actively trying to take the US out of the loop entirely so there is no need for even videoconferencing.

      I wouldn't be surprised if startups or companies looking to expand internationally, rather than looking to the US as a key market to get a foothold in, or source from, start ignoring it entirely and concentrate on BRIC countries instead.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 5:49am

    It's kind of funny, but you can ship things by air freight, which rents the unused luggage space that airlines suddenly had an abundance of when they started charging extra fees for luggage, and this air cargo basically bypasses the TSA and gets loaded on the same passenger airplanes that the TSA is so fussy about when actual passengers try to take anything.

    Maybe the TSA assumes that terrorists are going to be suicide bombers wanting a direct ticket into Heaven, and that's why passenger luggage tends to get scrutinized more than the air freight that gets loaded right next to it. It might seem crazy that a terrorist could blow up a plane in flight without even being present as a passenger, due to the ineptitude of bureaucratic federal agencies that have set up this sort of disaster just waiting to happen.

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

  • identicon
    Ken, 30 Jun 2017 @ 5:55am

    A business opportunity in rented laptops...

    Sounds like a new business opportunity...set up a kiosk in the airport to allow travelers to rent laptops during their stay...or even better maybe, allow the traveler to upload an image of their data to a cloud server. They arrive in the US then and are able to basically get a laptop that is a duplicate of what they left behind for use while they are in country. Then as they depart the drive image is then re upload to the cloud (or at least the changes are). The traveler returns home and updates their laptop with the new info. Downside is no electronics to use on the plane...which may mean airlines can start selling more of their own entertainment. :-) And of course....this is ALL done in a totally secure encrypted environment..... :-)

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

    • icon
      SteveMB (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 6:28am

      Re: A business opportunity in rented laptops...

      Sounds like a new business opportunity...set up a kiosk in the airport to allow travelers to rent laptops during their stay...

      DHS officials said the agency is broadly pushing airlines and airports to "take the next step" in beefing up security — meaning using more canine teams, adopting more advanced screening technology and enrolling in a Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance inspection program.

      TSA Bureaucrat: I don't care if the job is "executive assistant vice president" of the laptop rental division, the dog training division, or the airport security division, as long as I get the seven-figure salary and the blonde nymphomaniac secretary like we agreed....

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 7:46am

      Re: A business opportunity in rented laptops...

      Downside is no electronics to use on the plane...

      Also that "avoiding" security checks would be considered "suspicious"...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 6:28am

    Really? No one's posited what this is really all about yet?

    They'll ban laptops, notebooks and tablets under the guise that the batteries might explode/keeping people safe. They'll explain away the negative knock-on effects by saying it's a good thing that they can enable expansion of the economy and provide more opportunities the way Ken described above.

    What they won't explain is the ultimate, more nefarious goal: to destroy the international sneaker-net and force everyone to download their proprietary, confidential files AFTER arrival via the tapped and spied-upon internet trunks coming into and going out of the country. It is, and has always been about more hay for their precious stack.

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

    • icon
      Eldakka (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 2:51pm

      Re:

      If you're actually trying to sneakernet stuff in, it wouldn't be via large appliances like laptops or phones.

      It'd be via portable storage media like USB sticks, m/SD cards, etc.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 7:12am

    I got it already

    The US are saying loud and clear: stay away and don't visit us! We'll harass you in any way we can. It's because of the terrorists we aren't able to catch this way.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 7:40am

    Knock over a couple of buildings....

    and Americans turn into pussies!

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

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 8:15am

    "This expansion would cause even more passengers to either leave their laptops/tablets behind, as this ban would prevent them from being placed in checked luggage..."

    ...or be forced to finish this sentence. Public advocates are unsure which fate is worse.

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

  • identicon
    Nick-B, 30 Jun 2017 @ 8:19am

    So what happens to us Americans?

    If there is no restriction on taking a laptop out of the country (say, to Canada, that terrorism hotspot of the world), are we forced to throw it away if we want to return home? Are there exemptions for US citizens?

    What a stupid idea. All these terrorists have to do is wonder aloud into their wiretapped phones on ideas and it causes an entire country and airports around the world to react, violently.

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

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 8:52am

      Re: So what happens to us Americans?

      Exactly. This is why anyone who knows what terrorism does knows that the terrorists have already won the 'War on Terror' years ago.

      Terrorist is the only profession in the world where you can miss 100% of your targets 100% of the time and be 100% successful -- the people a terrorist kills aren't his targets, they're just collateral damage. His targets are the people he wants to scare into changing their behavior. So we had a terrorist back in 2001 who wanted to change us to be less free and more like him? We could have defeated him forever by simply being ourselves. Instead, we chose to lose the war by denying ourselves all of our own objectives while giving him all of his without a fight.

      So what if we killed Osama bin Laden a few years later? He had already won in a fight he was completely willing to die to win.

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

  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 9:09am

    Just ban baggage altogether, and ban clothes too, and ban passengers. It's the only way to be safe.

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

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 11:04am

    Damned if you do

    All that's being recommended is staying in "close contact" with their airline of choice, which sounds like the sort of pen pal relationship no one's in any hurry to engage in.

    Of course, staying in "close contact" with the airline gets you put on a watch list since you're CLEARLY either a terrorist or a drug runnner, because no one else would need those kinds of details.

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

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 30 Jun 2017 @ 2:57pm

    The US must be trying to prop up Canadian, Mexican and Caribbean airlines and transportation. Now they'll get all the US-bound passengers, carrying their laptops, who can then walk/drive/bus/boat across the US border where this restriction doesn't apply - yet.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2017 @ 7:15pm

      Re:

      Perhaps instead of flying into Detroit, fly into the Windsor International Airport on the Canadian side, then drive a short distance across the bridge into the USA (which many thousands of local commuters already do every day).

      But unfortunately there are very few other foreign-based international airports just outside major US cities.

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

  • identicon
    AnyMouse, 30 Jun 2017 @ 4:01pm

    When does the bollywood release come out?

    I can't wait to see the TSA agents performing a bollywood style theater production....

    Oh, that's not what was meant by making their security more theatrical...


    Who would have guessed it had nothing to do with security or theater...

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

  • identicon
    Jim, 1 Jul 2017 @ 2:30am

    Protectionism for the airlines

    Billmon over at the Moon of Alabama blog has pointed out that this was a promised move by Trump for the benefit of US-based airline CEOs, to make it tougher for passengers on Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways to fly to the US. So, this was a move to protect highly-subsidized US carriers against highly-subsidized foreign carriers.

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


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