TSA ban on uncharged phones isn’t as stupid as it sounds (Wired UK)


Wired


The Transportation Security Administration has found yet another
way to make traveling terrible: Passengers boarding US-bound
flights at some foreign airports will not be allowed to board with
electronic devices that don’t have enough juice to turn on. Forget
to charge your gadget and being stuck in line without the joy of
checking Twitter is the least of your worries. You’ll have to throw
your phone away when it’s finally your turn to run the screening
gauntlet.

The new rule — announced with no explanation of why it’s been
created — has been widely and swiftly lampooned as one more
example of TSA nonsense. It’s impressive that the agency has
managed to make the already crummy ordeal of flying even worse. But
don’t assume this is more TSA idiocy just yet.

The rule change may be obnoxious, but it’s not stupid, says Rafi
Ron, the former director of security at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion
International Airport, notorious for its strict screening
procedures. The TSA is likely responding to new intelligence that
al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has developed explosives
that are difficult to detect with current technology, Ron says.
That calls for a change in procedure.

“I think that the measures that are taken make a lot of sense,”
Ron says.

It should be noted that Ron is not a TSA apologist. He’s the guy
who called the agency’s decision to make us all remove our shoes in response to Richard Reid’s shoe
bomb debacle “an extremely unintelligent conclusion.”

Ensuring a phone turns on is a quick, easy and low-tech — if
not foolproof — way of checking that its battery hasn’t been
replaced with a bomb. The fact that it applies only to passengers
flying into the United States from select (and unspecified)
airports, shows the TSA is targeting its approach.

That said, it does seem strange that, as an anonymous TSA
employee notes to Wired, the TSA needs to do this at all, given
that it already uses an explosive trace detection machine. Plus,
there is the risk that turning on a gadget containing a bomb might
trigger it.

Whatever the answer, the TSA must implement its new rule
logically. That is not something the TSA is known for. Jason E.
Harrington, a former TSA officer and a critic of the agency,
doesn’t hold out much hope that logic will prevail. “Nearly all of
the security workforce, in all likelihood, will be mindlessly
waving through passengers with powered-up electronics — because
when you work front-line security with an inflexible checklist as
your guide, you find it’s easy to let critical thinking take a
backseat to basic standard operating procedure compliance,” he
wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian.

“Meanwhile, at least one old lady will probably arrive at every
airport checkpoint each day having forgotten to charge her beat-up
old flip-phone, which an agent will inevitably toss into the
checkpoint trash bin.”

The TSA has kept quiet about how it plans to implement the rule
— the announcement is all of four sentences long — but we hope it at least
considers putting an array of in the airport. That way, passengers
who show up with a dead battery don’t have to throw their gadgets
away, and this becomes just one more in a long list of
inconveniences.

There is another, much more nefarious element to the new rule:
Accusations that it has nothing to do with explosives, but is
rather a way for the Department of Homeland security to better
surveil us through our devices. The theory goes that if the phone’s
battery is dead, it can’t be tracked. There’s an easy workaround
for those who are worried about that: Once you’re through security,
pop out the battery and enjoy your flight.

This article originally appeared on Wired.com

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Source: wired.co.uk
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