Experts Slam Surprise US "Electronics Ban" on Flights from Muslim-Majority Countries
'It is strange that this electronics ban is about security, but includes no countries on the #MuslimBan, which was also about security,' wrote ThinkProgress editor Adrienne Mahsa
Criticism abounded Tuesday after the U.S. government announced a surprise ban on any electronics "larger than a cell phone" on flights from eight Muslim-majority countries—Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The U.K. is reportedly set to announce the same move Tuesday.
"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," Bruce Schneier, a security technologist, told the Guardian. "And there is certainly nothing technological that would limit this newfound threat to a handful of Middle Eastern airlines."
The 10 airports affected are Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), Cairo International Airport (CAI), Ataturk International Airport (IST), King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED), King Khalid International Airport (RUH), Kuwait International Airport (KWI), Mohammed V International Airport (CMN), Hamad International Airport (DOH), Dubai International Airport (DXB), and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH).
Officials gave airlines 96 hours to comply with the restrictions or risk losing their authorization to operate in the U.S., carriers said.
Under the restrictions, set to take effect Tuesday, travelers would have to stow any personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone or smart phone in their checked baggage.
Senior U.S. administration officials said late Monday that the new restrictions were prompted by "evaluated intelligence" that terrorists were smuggling explosives in "portable electronic devices," although they did not elaborate on what that meant.
But observers said the new rules were illogical and potentially discriminatory.
Nicholas Weaver, researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, added to the Guardian, "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," he said. "If you're worried about hacking, a cell phone is a computer."
Others noted that the government's basis for the new rules—claiming security threats—seems incongruous with its other recent travel restrictions.
It is strange that this electronics ban is about security, but includes no countries on the #MuslimBan, which was also about security.— Adrienne Mahsa (@AdrienneMahsa) March 21, 2017
Likewise, wrote Zach Whittaker, security editor at ZDNet and CBS News:
2001: Shoe bomb plot → check shoes at security— Zack Whittaker (@zackwhittaker) March 21, 2017
2006: Liquid bomb plot → ban on 100ml+ liquids in cabin
2017: ??? → ban electronics in cabin