Ban on electronic devices on flights has nothing to do with security

The United States is barring passengers on direct flights from eight Muslim-majority countries from carrying any electronic devices larger than a mobile phone according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Senior U.S. officials told reporters that nine airlines from the Middle East countries and North Africa have been given 96 hours to ban the devices from the cabin. They can still be checked and stored in baggage compartment. The airports involved are in Egypt. Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE. The devices banned include laptops, e-readers, cameras, tablets, electronic games and portable DVD players.
The DHS claimed that the ban was necessary as "terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer devices". The DHS issued a statement saying: "Based on this information, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administration Acting Administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last point of departure airports to the United States." The DHS cited the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt and the attempted downing of an airliner in Somalia both in 2015 as examples of why the restrictions were necessary. One wonders why it took up until now to decide on the restrictions. The restrictions are ridiculous to begin with. A terrorist must simply make sure they not go directly to the US from any of these banned airports. Is there some technical reason the terrorist cannot store the laptop or whatever in the luggage area and detonate it remotely from inside the cabin? Interesting that no U.S. airlines are impacted by the ban. If the aim were security one would think that the ban would apply to direct flights from any airport.
Experts have criticized the ban. Technologists say that the ban at ten airports seems "illogical and at odds with basic computer science". Nicholas Weaver researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the U of C Berkeley said: “It’s weird, because it doesn’t match a conventional threat model. If you assume the attacker is interested in turning a laptop into a bomb, it would work just as well in the cargo hold.” Just as I thought! Weaver also points out that the same risks would come with smaller devices such as cell phones which are not banned. Bruce Schneier, a security technologist, said the new rules were an onerous travel restriction: “From a technological perspective, nothing has changed between the last dozen years and today. That is, there are no new technological breakthroughs that make this threat any more serious today,. And there is certainly nothing technological that would limit this new found threat to a handful of Middle Eastern airlines.”
As often happens, security concerns can be used as a cover for actions that have a different purpose. In this case the purpose it to impose costs on mostly Middle East airlines that are successfully competing against other airlines including those in America and the U.K. The UK has followed the U.S. lead. A Guardian article notes:U.S. airlines have been lobbying the Trump administration to intervene in the Persian Gulf, where they have contended for years that the investments in three rapidly expanding airlines in the area – Etihad Airways, Qatar, and Emirates – constitute unfair government subsidies with which Delta, American and United cannot compete. All three Middle Eastern airlines are among the carriers affected by the electronics ban.
Trump said on Feb. 9 that he planned to help U.S. airlines compete with foreign carriers he regards as unfairly aided by their governments. Delta Air Lines, United Continental Holdings and American Airlines Group have all been prodding the U.S. government for the last two years claiming that $50 billion in state subsidies has contributed to the growth of Mideast Carriers. A recent article in the Economist goes into detail on this issue. Often those who take direct flights from these airports are business people who want to work on the plane. These customers will now fly to other airports first and then take other airlines to the U.S. The ban is just part of putting American airlines first using safety and defense against terrorists as a smokescreen. The technical complaints are not relevant except to show that the real intent is not the stated intent.


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