Earlier this month, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) banned passengers flying into the United States from 10 airports in Muslim majority countries from carrying electronic devices larger than a smartphone into the cabin.
The TSA did not provide a detailed justification for the ban. A few days after the ban was announced, reports began to emerge that the decision was based on intelligence that said that the Islamic State was close to developing a bomb hidden in portable devices.
All agencies involved in this have assured people that there is no imminent threat, and so far the ban only hampers passengers rather than provide improved measures of security.
This decision and the justification provided for it beg the question: To what extent can the government justify the curb being put on freedom in the name of security?
Anyone who has traveled by air knows the importance of electronic devices for passengers, especially in longer flights.
Business travelers use that time as an opportunity to catch up with work. Parents sometimes use electronic devices to entertain their children, and most people like to wind down reading books on their Kindles.
The adverse effects of this indefinite ban are beyond inconvenience. Checking in valuable electronic items usually involves a high risk of devices sustaining damage or becoming lost or stolen.
Moreover, all airline companies have policies explicitly stating that they will not be held liable for damaged valuables that the passengers will now have to check in.
The security benefits could outweigh these inconveniences if there were any. Many airports listed by the TSA have sophisticated security measures, some of which surpass that of the United States.
This ban is essentially an unfair vote of no confidence toward these security apparatuses in place.
Emirates Airlines, one of the major airlines affected by the change, has already found a loophole it has implemented.
Passengers traveling on two indirect flights to the U.S. via Rome from one of the targeted airports are not subject to this ban. A potential terrorist could easily carry a concealed bomb on one of these planes.
Another reason most cybersecurity experts criticize this ban is the fact that security for cabin baggage is more sophisticated than that for checked baggage. In fact, it is easier to check in certain restricted items than to carry them into the cabin.
This is not the only factor. Terrorists who have the capacity to hide a bomb in a portable device could as well take it on board a plane from another airport that doesn’t have these restrictions in place and could easily carry out a strike on a plane headed to the United States.
There are many other arguments against the ban. The Guardian reported that many experts, including those at the Federal Aviation Administration, warned passengers and airlines about the risk of lithium batteries in the cargo hold catching fire. These lithium batteries power most electronic devices.
Thus it is more of a risk to check these devices in rather than to carry them on board.
This move by the TSA violates passenger freedom. It also drastically affects airlines and insurance companies, who will now have to work out how to structure claims for damaged devices.
Yet so far, this has been justified using the “terrorist card,” which apparently provides justification for any action.
The security threats that the TSA has used to justify this move are still a threat for passengers on any plane.
These measures do not make air travel any safer, but rather, make it more inconvenient.