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Banning Electronics From Flights ‘Fails the Logic Test'

The US has indefinitely banned passengers from eight majority-Muslim countries from carrying electronics on planes.
Image: Flickr

Update: This story has been updated with specifics about the ban. 

The Trump administration has indefinitely banned electronics larger than cell phones from being carried on planes by people flying to the United States from eight majority-Muslim countries.

The ban will apply to airlines flying directly to the United States from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait City, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. It will apply to all electronics larger than a smartphone. Other electronics, such as laptops, will be allowed in checked luggage. The New York Times reports that the ban is not related to any specific threat.


Security experts on Twitter noted that the Trump administration is sowing more baseless fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Peter W. Singer, a technology and terrorism expert at the New America Foundation, told me in an email that banning electronics in airplane cabins makes no sense.

"Like so much today, this is poorly thought out, from the terrible rollout that adds to confusion to the clearly disproven assumption that only people from certain countries [are a threat]," he said. "Indeed, even for proven cases, it fails the logic test. Based on [the administration's] logic, we should ban all British passengers from wearing shoes and Nigerian passengers from wearing underwear, because of the nationalities of the shoe bomber (Richard Reid) and the underwear bomber (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab)."

As reported, the ban would apply only to people entering the United States on direct flights from those countries; the ban would not apply to people entering the United States from these countries on connecting flights from Europe.

There is probably a discussion that should be had about whether or not lithium ion batteries should be allowed on planes, but it's not something that should be unilaterally rolled out with little notice to passengers and targeted directly at people from primarily Muslim countries.

"I'm more concerned about bombs disguised to look like electronics than electronics being bombs themselves"

The Federal Aviation Administration banned Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones from being carried on planes because they were exploding. Electronic cigarettes have also been banned from checked bags, and drone batteries and so-called "hoverboards" have been banned from cabins. But these bans apply to all travelers, and did not single out specific countries. The Air Line Pilots Association has repeatedly asked Congress and the FAA to regulate bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries on cargo planes, but has not suggested that passengers be prevented from, say, bringing a laptop onto an airplane.

Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, whose company makes most of its money by opening up and examining the innards of electronics, told me that electronics themselves aren't a threat, but that bombs disguised as electronics could be.

"I'm more concerned about bombs disguised to look like electronics than electronics being bombs themselves," he said. In 2014, the Transportation Security Administration temporarily required passengers to turn on their electronics to prove they were not bombs.

The Trump administration has made entering the United States miserable and dehumanizing for foreigners. The administration has given itself wide latitude to search the cell phones and laptops of anyone entering the country; its botched January travel ban resulted in people with Green Cards being detained at the border, and the revised travel ban has been blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii.