The latest strike of the Trump administration against terrorism was an unprecedented ban on all technological devices larger than a personal cell phone. Released this week, the ban affects selected flights that travel from seven major Muslim countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Jordan. Such devices are now to be stowed away as checked-in baggage, as opposed to conventional carry-on baggage. Similar to other recent measures by the Trump administration, this ban was also met with a flurry of both flak and occasional praise. The greatest ordeal that the ban faces, however, is not the polarity of resulting opinions, but the vagueness of the ban itself.
Numerous passengers were unsure what the largest acceptable dimensions for electronic devices were, a question still left unanswered by the Trump administration. Until then, the airlines, who have faced astronomical losses due to the ban itself, also face the brunt of arbitrarily deciding the dimensions of devices allowed on-flight. In addition, speculation behind the reason of the ban was afloat. Experts questioned whether the threat was data stored on such devices or these devices being used as explosives. The Department of Homeland Security later dispelled doubt and confirmed that the threat under question is only that of electronic devices used as bombs. Furthermore, many opposed to this ban argued that check-in baggage is stored in the cargo of the same flight and has just as much potential to harm in-flight passengers as carry-on baggage. Another presented contention is the fact that terrorists exist all around the world, and not only in the seven banned countries. A cell phone, regardless of its dimensions, can also be used just as a computer. While these arguments reinforce the bleak picture of growing terrorism, experts argue that the storage of laptops in the cargo hold pose a new threat altogether: the possibility of poorly packaged laptops causing a safety hazard due to their lithium-ion batteries.
Historically, there have been two incidents where the explosive laptops in carry-on baggage have been used by terrorists: The Russian Metrojet was bombed in Egypt, killing all 226 aboard, and Daalo Airlines’ Flight 159, on which a passenger carried a sophisticated laptop bomb that bypassed security measures. The confidentiality of the reasoning behind this ban is still intact, for the DHS refuses to reveal any more information about the ban. While it is suspected that the ban will be lifted around mid-October of this year, it is yet to be seen whether this directive will suffer the short-lived fate of its predecessors.