Trump administration considering a new assault on the press
The Department of Homeland Security is reportedly considering expanding the ban on large electronic devices in carry-on bags to include flights from Europe. But this move makes no sense from a security perspective, and will only invade our privacy and make it a nightmare for journalists to do their job.
In March, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly announced that any electronic device larger than a cell phone would be prohibited in carry-on bags on flights from eight Middle Eastern countries flying into U.S. airports, requiring that any such devices be placed in checked baggage.
Now, reports indicate Kelly is considering extending that ban to include flights from Europe, although the DHS stresses they have not yet made any final decisions.
But it is crucial to note that the extension of the ban would seriously compromise travelers’ privacy, and the ability of the press to do their jobs.
Putting laptops and tablets into checked baggage is not some minor inconvenience — it exposes passengers to a significant risk of breakage, loss, or theft. The Transportation Security Administration actually advises passengers not to do it. In fact, one investigation two years ago found the TSA has paid out over $3 million to passengers after their own agents were caught stealing from people’s bags.
This risk is bad enough for regular vacationers, and even worse for business travelers carrying proprietary information. But it is extremely troubling for journalists. Foreign correspondents often carry dozens of electronic devices like laptops, cameras, and microphones, and are prime theft targets if they let this equipment out of their line of sight.
The "Muslim laptop ban" will also separate journalists, activists and everyone else from their personal data and put it into unknown hands
— Evan Hill (@evanchill) March 21, 2017
Moreover, the proposed measure, like the initial version, is being sold as a means of preventing terrorists from smuggling explosive devices onto aircraft. But from a security perspective, banning electronics from carry-ons makes absolutely no sense.
Terrorists are perfectly capable of detonating explosives in checked bags. They do not even have to be on the plane with the bomb, as in the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In fact, according to British aviation security expert Philip Baum, “We are much more effective at screening cabin baggage than we are hold baggage, because you’re dealing with smaller quantities and you’ve got the person in front of you.”
Further, putting hundreds of electronic devices in the hold of an aircraft is itself dangerous, because the lithium-ion batteries in most electronics are extremely combustible. The Federal Aviation Administration warns battery fires can be “catastrophic” for an aircraft, and last year the UN banned bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries from cargo on international passenger flights, although Trump has ignored experts’ recommendations and deregulated battery transport.
Former National Transportation Safety Board managing director Peter Goelz said the ban “is going to represent a major logistical problem for airlines.”
In short, Trump’s laptop ban is a terrible idea that solves no problem, makes nothing safer, and will hurt journalists trying to do international reporting. If the DHS follows through on their idea to expand the ban, they would turn overseas travel into a nightmare, for no legitimate reason.