US bans uncharged smartphones and laptops from flights


The US Transport Security Administration (TSA) will stop visitors travelling from “certain overseas airports” including London Heathrow, from bringing uncharged smart devices such as iPhones and Galaxy smartphones onto flights.

As well as requiring travellers to the US to have their smartphones charged, the new powers will also let airline security personnel put the devices through undisclosed additional screening.

“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 traveller may also undergo additional screening,” read the statement.

The TSA plans are part of a wider sweep of airport security reforms promised by secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson on 2 July. The TSA said it will continue to develop new ways to bolster airport security and will announce fresh changes in the near future.

“TSA will continue to adjust security measures to ensure that travellers are guaranteed the highest levels of aviation security conducted as conveniently as possible,” read the statement.

The news comes after widespread concerns about US intelligence agencies’ use of smart devices in mass-surveillance campaigns, such as PRISM.

The campaigns saw the US National Intelligence Agency siphon vast amounts of customer data from numerous companies including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Apple. The campaigns are known to have targeted smart devices.

Alert Logic’s vice president of research Will Semple told V3 the reforms are likely designed to find people using smart devices to circumvent airport security, as opposed to spy on incoming visitors to the US.

“The requirement to have all smart devices capable of demonstrating that it is functioning is the need behind the ‘charge’ directive from the US Department of Transportation. It would also imply that the US intelligence agencies have a specific concern that smart devices are being utilised to bypass standard airport security detection systems,” he said.

He added that the difficult nature of spying on incoming US visitors via their smartphones would be more trouble than it is worth for intelligence agencies.

“The concern around surveillance as a byproduct of this directive, where tracking can be carried out via public WiFi hotspots in airports is interesting. WiFi-only tracking as a means to track ingress and egress from an airport would produce a lot of data problems,” he said.

“Assuming that the tracking agency has access to the logs from the public WiFi in near real time, they would need to have other data points to make decisions from. Even where public access WiFi requests users login with an email, these can be set up as ‘one-time uses’ preventing basic correlation. The value of doing this type of surveillance can be limited by itself.”

The news comes just after leaked documents emerged revealing that nine out of 10 people caught in the PRISM campaign were monitored by the NSA accidentally.

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