What you should know about the restrictions

An Egyptian woman using her tablet to video protesters in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on June 3, 2012.
An Egyptian woman using her tablet to video protesters in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on June 3, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

The United States and Britain on Tuesday banned laptops, tablet computers and other large electronic devices from the passenger compartment of flights from several Middle Eastern and North African nations. Here is more information about the restrictions.

Q Why were the bans imposed?

A Officials in both Britain and the US would not give any details on what exactly prompted the bans. The US Department of Homeland Security, however, said extremists were seeking "innovative methods" to attack jets.

A government source in London said only that Britain was "privy to the same intelligence" as the US.

Q When do the bans take effect?

A Airlines in the US have been given 96 hours, beginning at 3am on Tuesday, to inform travellers. Officials were not able to say when the order would end. The British ban applied immediately from Tuesday and also has no end date.

Q What devices are banned?

A Britain said it would be banning "phones, laptops or tablets larger than a normal-sized mobile or smartphone" on direct inbound flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. It specified the ban would apply to devices bigger than 16cm in length, 9.3cm in width and 1.5cm thick - meaning some e-readers like Kindles will be affected.

The US said its ban applies to all electronic devices larger than an average-sized mobile phone, including game consoles.

Q Do these devices pose a greater threat than cellphones?

A Only physically, not technologically. A computer or a tablet is larger than a smartphone, which gives more room for terrorists to cram in components like bomb parts or weapons. There is also the risk that a terrorist could use a smartphone to remotely detonate a bomb hidden inside a computer that has been checked in as cargo.

Q So why ban computers and tablets?

A Other than preventing terrorists from smuggling components onto planes, the device ban may create additional surveillance opportunities. It is common for airport security officials to search checked luggage. In theory, if a computer is checked in, airport officials can do more thorough searches, including a data frisk.

Q What should I do?

A If you are flying on an affected airline and are concerned about your privacy, consider encrypting your files using an app like BitLocker or FileVault.

In addition, travellers could seal laptops in a tamper-evident bag.

You could also consider travelling with an inexpensive computer that lacks any sensitive data. And you could back up your data to the cloud and purge it from the inexpensive computer before checking it in with your luggage.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'What you should know about the restrictions'. Print Edition | Subscribe