TSA to leave passengers powerless if devices will not switch on

TSA to leave passengers powerless if devices will not switch on

Summary: Homeland Security in the US has ordered the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to enhance security checks on electronic devices at certain international airports.


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced it is enhancing security measures at "certain airports overseas" by taking extra precaution when screening electronic devices.

The transportation officials has said in a statement that as part of the new procedures during security screening for flights to the United States, passengers may be asked to switch on their electronic devices, and will not be allowed to board their flight if the device is powerless.

US Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson said the new measures are just part of an ongoing process of assessing and re-evaluating the "global threat environment".

"I have directed TSA to implement enhanced security measures in the coming days at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States," he said in a statement.

"We will work to ensure these necessary steps pose as few disruptions to travelers as possible. We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry. These communications are an important part of our commitment to providing our security partners with situational awareness about the current environment and protecting the traveling public.

"Aviation security includes a number of measures, both seen and unseen, informed by an evolving environment. As always, we will continue to adjust security measures to promote aviation security without unnecessary disruptions to the traveling public."

Travellers may also undergo additional screening, TSA said.

It is still unclear which international airports will be affected, however BBC confirmed that London's Heathrow will be one of them. 

ZDNet has contacted Sydney Airport, Melbourne Airport, and Brisbane Airport — all of which have direct flights to the United States — for comment.

Topics: Travel Tech, Security


Since completing a degree in journalism, Aimee has had her fair share of covering various topics, including business, retail, manufacturing, and travel. She continues to expand her repertoire as a tech journalist with ZDNet.

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  • What Now?

    Bombs that can only work in cell phones / tablets with dead or no batteries?

    Methinks July is the time when departmental budgets get reviewed for the next fiscal year... and bureaucrats everywhere (TSA included) need to look busy...
  • No, not look busy...

    ...they should be looking for other legitimate forms of employment.
  • The possible reasoning

    is batteries replaced by explosives. In theory someone could open the battery casing, remove the electrolyte and electrodes, cleaning out the shell, then pack it with explosive, seal it, and maybe find a way to remove detectible residues on the outside. This would be hard to detect with most equipment, as battery electrolyte may look the same on scanners as explosives.
    They required laptops powered on even for domestic flights starting after 2000, maybe some other devices now have batteries large enough to be a threat?
  • This is a bad idea

    The likelihood that people will be barred from a flight because their cellular phones ran out of batteries (a frequent enough occurrence) or otherwise malfunctioned makes this much more trouble than it could possibly be worth. The airlines need to fight this. At the very least, the TSA should allow people to plug in their powered-down devices to verify that they work.
    John L. Ries
  • Stop Encouraging Terrorism

    A better way for the US to prevent terrorism is to be a better world citizen. To say they bomb us because they hate freedom is just naive and defeatist.
    Producto Endorsair
    • But that doesn't help us right now

      And it's not entirely clear that a radical change in US foreign policy would immediately cause our enemies to disappear (and even if it did, that there wouldn't be worse consequences).

      For better or worse, we live in an interconnected world and what happens in one part can have great effect on the rest. And the US is the fourth largest country in the world, so we're a great power no matter what we do. We can, as some people have advocated, completely withdraw our troops to within our own borders, undertake to scrupulously avoid any sort of involvement in the affairs of other nations, and even adopt Swiss-style neutrality, but the world would still go on, and other powers probably wouldn't do the same thing. The US did stay out of European affairs after WWI, but WWII happened anyway and few would argue that the US did anything to bring it about (in the European theater anyway). And be assured that if Germany had conquered the UK, the war would have spread to North America even if we had done nothing at all (remembering that Canada was and is a dominion of the British Crown and the British government and Parliament would certainly have been evacuated to Ottawa).
      John L. Ries
      • Correct except for

        the "...that Canada ... is a dominion of the British Crown..." Canada is totally independent of the United Kingdom except that the monarch of the U.K. is also the monarch of Canada in a separate role. The term "Dominion" was dropped in 1982 with the final severing of legal ties to the United Kingdom in the Canada Act of that year.

        The Moslem Terrorists have been anti-United States for over 200 years. We should stop being "mister nice guy" and be more like the old Soviet Union - back in the 70s or 80s the Moslem Terrorists in Lebanon or Syria killed a bunch of Soviet citizens. The Soviets didn't wring their hands and try to "understand" the reasons; rather they sent in the Spetsnaz and took out a few hundred terrorists (and their families, IIRC). Result - no more attacks on Soviet citizens.
        • The British Monarch is head of state...

          ...and every government official and member of Parliament swears or affirms allegiance to her before taking office (that's what I mean by "dominion of the British Crown"). Is there any question as to what Canada would do if the UK were attacked?

          Canada was for all practical purposes independent in 1939 as well (even though the Governor General was still British), but it promptly declared war on Germany when the UK did (along with every other member of the Commonwealth).
          John L. Ries
    • Complete and total nonsense

      There will _ALWAYS_ be some disaffected group that feels they deserve more than what they have (rightly or wrongly). And it doesn't matter whether it cuts across racial, religious, economic, political or geographical lines. With 7 billion people on the planet, there will never be a level of homogeneity in thoughts and values that precludes discontent and unrest. And frankly, it probably wouldn't be a world worth living in if there was.

      To single out the US as the "cause" of terrorism is ludicrous. If anything, the US is a victim of its own success. It is the most affluent, high profile and diverse culture in the world. It is the single greatest contributor to disaster relief and charitable causes around the world. I don't have any illusions that there aren't darker aspects to its efforts to promote and protect its interests abroad, but its should be neither surprising nor unexpected.

      Any move towards more isolationism or adoption of completely altruistic/dove-ish tactics would have severe negative global consequences.
  • This is what happens when ignorant clowns are put in charge of things.

    Since even an inept teenager could modify a laptop to still power on and have a stash area it really shows what level of drooling cretin is allowed to make decisions in government.

    The fact that the moron's boss that came up with this didn't do a face palm then fire the idiot, just show them as clowns. They are they probably had a competition for the dumbest idea and then gave prizes.
    Reality Bites
  • who cares

    the easiest thing to do is just avoid going to or transiting through the USA. Problem solved. No loss except maybe to the USA. I'm sure they can do without me.
  • Not smart, people.

    There should have been no announcements; telling an adversary what you mean to do gives him the information he needs to circumvent it.
    • So...

      ...you would rather have had the TSA confiscate people's devices without warning?
      John L. Ries
      • On rereading...

        ...confiscation doesn't appear to be an issue, but people missing their flights would be.

        There is never any justification for secret rules, even in a war zone; they are the epitome of arbitrary government.
        John L. Ries
  • I don't think I have ever experienced a device that would not power up.

    Simple answer is to insure that your devices are charged before getting to security. If it doesn't work or is less than reliable then put in in checked baggage. Let's not create even bigger problems.
    The Heretic
  • This involves a serious threat coming from AQIM in Yemen and ISIS in Syria

    Per multiple news reports, communications intercepts indicate that bomb makers in Yemen, possibly associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) are working actively with Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to place a bomb on one or more airline flights to the US. The bomb makers are believed to have developed a bomb small enough to fit inside a cellphone or iPod case but powerful enough to destroy an airliner.

    For one of the numerous articles on this, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/world/middleeast/holder-expresses-concern-about-terrorist-bomb-makers.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C{%222%22%3A%22RI%3A16%22}&_r=0

    This type of bomb may not be identifiable by standard chemical detection methods, but the explosives don't leave enough room inside the casing for the normal cellphone or iPod electronics and battery, so the device can't be turned on and operated like a normal cellphone or iPod. The best way for airport security to detect them is to require that all travelers take out and turn on any personal electronic devices they are traveling with. If a device won't turn on, the traveler gets a chance to charge it up and turn it on. If it still won't turn on, the device will be confiscated, and presumably the traveler will be detained until security can determine whether the device is a bomb, or merely a broken cellphone.

    Yes, airport security can be a nuisance at times. Yes, security officials may occasionally order people around. And yes, life may not be as free as it used to be.

    That's not the fault of airport security, though, and it's not the fault of national security agencies. It's the fault of those who, for reasons of religious or ideological extremism, have decided to wage war against western nations. The target nations aren't just the US, either, Terrorists also bombed a commuter train in Madrid, Spain on March 11, 2004, and both buses and underground trains in London, England on July 7, 2005.

    While civil liberties must receive appropriate protection here in the US and should receive similar protection abroad, I would much rather be mildly inconvenienced by an airport security agent asking me to turn on my cellphone than to be blown to bits in midair.

    I do not hate either Muslims or Islam. As far as foreign policy is concerned, I have no great desire to force other countries to adopt American institutions and values. Those things said, there seem to be bomb makers in Yemen, Syria, and other places preparing to attack western countries. Since they have an unquenchable desire to be martyrs, we should accommodate their wishes, at least insofar as that wish is concerned. I hope that CIA drones shove a missile down the throat of every single one of them.