Electronics ban wastes effort to improve security

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Fatima Nidali-Levens, center, claps alongside protesters at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Sunday afternoon. The demonstration was held in solidarity with several occupations in airports across the country.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Last week, U.S. government officials informed airlines that they must require passengers flying in from 10 airports to check certain personal electronic items, and must not allow them to take these items in their carry-on baggage. The ban applies to several major international travel hubs, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Istanbul. 

Fears that terrorists may try to smuggle explosives in electronic devices onto passenger flights prompted the implementation of the ban. However this fear is one that has existed for some time, so the ban is not only an inconvenience, but is also not likely to have any sort of significant impact in terms of security. 

Any high activity airport has standard security procedures where every traveler and their carry-on baggage is put through security screening, and checked further if airport authorities find anything suspicious. This includes all electronics, especially laptops, which are often put through screening separately from the rest of a passenger’s baggage. So if these screenings don’t pick up anything in these electronics, there is no point of checking them into cargo.

Moreover, whether these electronic devices are with the passenger or are with the rest of the checked baggage in cargo, they are still physically on the airplane. So if a device poses a threat, the damage it could do would be relatively the same whether it was in carry-on storage or in the cargo hold, and should be completely removed from the aircraft.

“It’s weird, because it doesn’t match a conventional threat model,” said Nicholas Weaver, a senior researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, in an interview with “The Guardian.” “If you assume the attacker is interested in turning a laptop into a bomb, it would work just as well in the cargo hold.”

Some airlines are allowing passengers to keep their items right before boarding, at which point they may hand them off to staff. Again, regardless of where the device is or who has it, can inflict similar damage. This is likely to make the boarding process run less smoothly, with staff having to record all the devices they collect — assuming they even have a system in place yet, considering the ban has only been in place for about a week. 

In additional to all these logistical discrepancies, there are other questions to be addressed. In 2016, over 83 million people traveled through the Dubai airport — a vast majority of which would have traveled to the United States — and that number is expected to rise. It is unclear who would take responsibility for lost or damaged items. Tablets and laptops don’t grow on trees, sometimes costing upwards of $1000, and for most people those devices hold a lot of important data that may not be recovered if damaged or lost. 

There are other minor inconveniences. Some flights to the U.S. can be up to 15 hours long, time that can be used for many to get work done on their laptops, or even use them as source of entertainment. While this isn’t the biggest issue, it’s an unnecessary bother on top of the already hectic aspects of international travel.  

This electronics ban simply does not make sense, and the reasons cited by government officials for the ban are events that have taken place outside of the U.S.. So why implement this ban now? The government needs to re-think their ideas and use the resources this country has to focus on more tangible and logistical security measures.

Agha is a public relations junior from Karachi, Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @alinaagha96