Tuesday March 21, 2017

'Terrorism has won': Aviation security expert slams new airline electronics ban

The U.K. and the U.S. are both banning electronics in carry-on luggage on flights from certain cities and airports.

The U.K. and the U.S. are both banning electronics in carry-on luggage on flights from certain cities and airports. (Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images)

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The U.S. and Britain are banning large carry-on electronics from direct flights from several countries in the Middle East and North Africa, saying it will protect passengers from would-be bombers seeking to smuggle explosives in their electronics.

But Philip Baum, editor-in-chief of Aviation Security International Magazine, says these new rules aren't likely to make flying any safer. 

Baum spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the travel restrictions.  Here is a part of their conversation. 

Carol Off: What are we to make of these new restrictions on electronics?

Philip Baum: To me it seems that terrorism has won. Terrorists aim to disrupt our daily lives and that they have succeeded in doing.

Whilst I understand that governments around the world have to respond to threat information and intelligence, we also have to make sure that the measures that they implement make security common sense ... and I fear that this laptop restriction will be exactly like the liquids, aerosols and gels restrictions of a decade ago — that they're introduced and very difficult to remove.

'Terrorists aim to disrupt our daily lives and that they have succeeded in doing.' -  Philip Baum, Aviation Security Magazine 

That's what our screeners at airports are going to be looking for; they're going to be looking for the laptop that they can stop somebody taking onboard the airplane, rather than the terrorist.

latops

Passengers flying out of certain Middle Eastern or North African countries will not be labelled to bring their latops in their carry-on luggage on direct flights to the U.S. or the U.K. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

CO: Can we not rely on the possibility that they're doing this for a good reason?

PB: I'm sure that there's a good reason for it. But the reality is that if, in the year 2017, screeners at airports wherever they are in the world can't distinguish between a laptop that has got a bomb in it and a laptop that hasn't got a bomb in it, we're in a very sorry state of affairs.

Instead of looking for restricted items or restricting items, what we should be looking for is negative intent, not only in passengers, but also in airport employees. 

Risk of theft 

CO: What about arriving at the airport with your laptop and your tablet and thing of this nature. I mean, how is that going to work? Are people going to be required surrender them at the gate if they didn't know the policy or forgot?

Time will tell, but for now they're going to be asked to actually check the items into their checked luggage, and I have to say that from my own personal perspective, and I fly a lot, I am not prepared to check my laptop into my checked luggage — not only because of the fear of damage, but the fear of theft.

'Let's face it, what the terrorists are doing is they are thinking about how to carry out the next attack, and the best lesson the past has taught us is that next time, it's going to be different.' - Philip Baum

We know that there are criminal gangs working airside at airports looking for valuable items, and it's not only the value of the item, it's the value of the data that's contained on these items. And as far as I'm concerned, it would preclude me from travelling to certain destinations

CO: American airlines will not have these restrictions. What does that do?

PB: Well, first of all, it implies that there's a little bit of politics involved here.

It still doesn't prevent a passenger coming with a laptop from say Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom, and then getting on a flight from the United Kingdom or via another African or European city.

USA-AIRLINES/ELECTRONICS

Egypt is one of the countries targeted in the U.S. and U.K. travel restrictions. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

To me this is just a measure that is responding to specific threat information but it doesn't necessarily reduce our exposure to the risk of aircraft being bombed.

Because let's face it, what the terrorists are doing is they are thinking about how to carry out the next attack, and the best lesson the past has taught us is that next time, it's going to be different.

'There is also a lot of politics involved'

CO: The United Kingdom has joined the United States in having a similar policies ... but they've left off Morocco, Qatar and the UAE and they've added Tunisia and Lebanon? Any idea how they've chosen these countries?

USA-AIRLINES/ELECTRONICS

The U.S. restrictions target airports in the UAE, but the U.K.'s does not. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

PB: I'm sure to a certain extent it is going to be based on intel, but I fear that there is also a lot of politics involved. I know that the sheer number of flights that operate between places like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Dohar in Qatar and the U.K. would make any restrictions extremely difficult for people in business. 

That's valuable working time when people are telephoning you and you can just concentrate on getting your work done, responding to all your emails and preparing your presentations and preparing your spreadsheet — but you can't do that if your laptop's in the hold.