The Trump administration is reportedly considering expanding an electronics ban that currently targets Middle Eastern and North African airports.
On Wednesday, the Daily Beast reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was moving to ban laptops in the cabins of all U.S.-bound flights from Europe. In a statement made to the publication, DHS downplayed plans for expansion, but did not deny the possibility was being considered.
“No final decisions have been made on expanding the restriction on large electronic devices in aircraft cabins,” the statement read. “[H]owever, it is under consideration. DHS continues to evaluate the threat environment and will make changes when necessary to keep air travelers safe.”
Introduced in March, the initial ban targeted 10 airport hubs in cities like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Doha in Qatar. Travelers flying on direct flights to the United States from those hubs are barred from bringing certain electronics (namely laptops, but also iPods and other large electronics) aboard with them. Those items must be packed in checked luggage and stowed in cargo.
Purportedly introduced to combat the possibility of explosives buried in electronics, the current ban sparked protest when it was announced. The ban exclusively targets airports based in Muslim-majority nations, a move that raised eyebrows in light of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies and repeated efforts to bar many Muslims from entering the United States. The hashtag #MuslimLaptopBan began trending soon after the announcement.
“While there may be legitimate security reasons behind this decision, President Trump’s blatant anti-Muslim rhetoric and the total lack of explanation about these new restrictions raises serious concerns that this could be yet more bigotry disguised as policy,” Naureen Shah, Senior Director of Campaigns at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement at the time. “This administration has consistently used ‘national security’ as shorthand for discriminating against Muslims, and we fear this latest decision may be no different.”
Journalists and activists cited concerns over privacy and data.
If you're a journalist or an activist, fly with a chromebook. Carry minimal sensitive info anyway. Put it in an encrypted USB—always on you.
— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) March 21, 2017
Opponents of the ban have raised questions about the effectiveness of both the proposed and current ban when it comes to safety. While DHS claims to have enacted the policy to protect passengers, aviation officials seem less sure of its efficacy. As the Daily Beast reported, some in the industry are concerned that devices linked to lithium-ion battery fires would be far more dangerous in cargo, where fires cannot be put out, than in cabin areas.
Even if European airports are included in the expanded ban, the policy still has racist and discriminatory undertones. According to the New York Times, DHS officials are concerned that Europe’s immigration policies are too relaxed — a sign that religion and national origin are playing a role in the decision. Dual citizens and other European Union nationals are reportedly a source of concern for U.S. officials.
Numerous factors could be driving the new ban. Officials cited concern over an elevated threat risk from groups like ISIS when the initial ban was announced. Notably, in that instance Britain quickly followed suit, issuing a similar ban on certain electronics in carry-on luggage for a number of airports. Like the U.S. ban, Britain’s targeted Middle Eastern and North African airports, albeit not the same airports.
But others, including Emirati social commentator Sultan Al Qassemi, wondered if the ban might not be a ploy to direct business away from popular Gulf airlines. U.S. airlines have suffered financial setbacks for years, while their counterparts in the Middle East have grown. Some have speculated that efforts to lobby the Trump administration could have swayed the DHS directive.
Whether intended or not, the initial ban resulted in a favorable business outcome for U.S. airlines — in April, Emirates, the Middle East’s largest airline, cut back on flights to the United States.