New rule "enhanced security measures" ordered by the Secretary of Homeland Security for certain flights originating overseas, via the Transportation Security Administration:
As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening.
TSA will continue to adjust security measures to ensure that travelers are guaranteed the highest levels of aviation security conducted as conveniently as possible.
Secretary Jeh Johnson's statement was released last week. It reads in part:
I have directed TSA to implement enhanced security measures in the coming days at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States. We will work to ensure these necessary steps pose as few disruptions to travelers as possible. We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry. These communications are an important part of our commitment to providing our security partners with situational awareness about the current environment and protecting the traveling public. Aviation security includes a number of measures, both seen and unseen, informed by an evolving environment
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is sharing relevant information with foreign countries and airlines but not the public, although media reports point to a potential threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a jihadist group fighting the Iraqi and Syrian governments and other regional governments and terrorist groups .
Writing in an op-ed at The Guardian, self-described former TSA employee Jason Harrington shares his opinion on the new directive, which he points out he joked about in a satirical post about the National Security Agency (NSA) last year. Harrington explains:
This is the real conundrum that accompanies most post-9/11 airport security rules: the logic behind them is a race to the bottom. Consider…
If a group of terrorists is clever enough to pack explosives inside a laptop to make them undetectable by current technology, wouldn't they be clever enough to devise an explosive laptop that can do all of this … and still appear to power up? If US intelligence next announces that terrorists have become clever enough to engineer the faux-power laptop bomb, and passengers are then required to prove their laptops can connect to airport WiFi, how long until murky intelligence warns of a hotspot-enabled iBomb ? If terrorists are theoretically clever enough to make that smart of a bomb, what would stop them from building one in, say, a disabled extremist's motorized wheelchair, Breaking Bad-style? Also, and not to get too deep into the mind of Machiavellian murderers, but wouldn't they have just done that from the beginning? Harrington also says he saw about 10 laptops a day broken by "inattentive" x-ray operators when he worked at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Harrington, a former screener, writes that "absurd, ham-handed security rules are ceaselessly drilled into the minds of TSA screeners as the only way to ensure the American way of life," and "thoughtlouslessly" regarding as safe any item that can power up and then singling grandma out because her flip phone's dead makes security lines longer and a better terrorist target than getting on the plane.
NBC News' Luke Russert, meanwhile, dismissed criticism he says he saw on the Internet. Via Mediaite:
"I've seen on the blogosphere, on the Twitters, people complaining about this," Russert said, squinting so you know he's super-serious. "'What happens if my cell phone isn't charged? My laptop's not charged? I won't be able to get on the plane?'" he mimicked potential questions from skeptical travelers, before declaring: "Sack up!"
Shut up and stop complaining, Russert said, because "this is what the Department of Homeland Security says is a viable threat to the United States' safety and security. If you could not charge your phone, I'm so sorry for you. Go to the little place at the airport two hours before, hook it up, they have it."
"Most Americans don't fly more than three times a year," he added. "A lot of this whining comes from people who fly more. Do what you and I do, go to TSA-pre. It's very noninvasive. You're a business traveler, I'm sure you can afford it."
Jeh Jonson and the TSA both stress they don't want to unnecessarily disrupt or inconvenience travelers. Previous necessary disruptions and inconveniences here.