The Department of Homeland Security still has the power to control the world’s airports, or at least those of our Five Eyes’ spying allies. New DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson issued the following statement on July 2nd.
DHS continually assesses the global threat environment and reevaluates the measures we take to promote aviation security. As part of this ongoing process, I have directed TSA to implement enhanced security measures in the coming days at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States. 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.
The key part is in the second sentence: “enhanced security measures.” The unspecified threat the DHS is reacting to has added a new requirement for passengers taking direct flights to the United States. In short, you’d better make sure all your electronics are charged before you reach the security checkpoint or you quite possibly won’t be going anywhere.
Heathrow Airport has told passengers to ensure all electronic devices carried as hand baggage are charged before travel if they are flying to the US.
The move follows a request from the US that “certain overseas airports” implement enhanced security measures. The UK government has also revised its rules to state that if a “device doesn’t switch on, you won’t be allowed to bring it on to the aircraft”.
Anyone who has absentmindedly allowed a battery to discharge will still have several options, according to Heathrow officials. They can use airport “charging points” to bring their devices back to life or stash them in stowed luggage. They can also mail the device to themselves if they don’t mind being separated for a little extra time. This all sounds very accommodating, but simply having a drained device can place you under suspicion.
Affected passengers have been told they may also have to undergo extra screening measures.
There also seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the DHS and the affected airports as to which devices are subject to the new “charged and operable” standard. The TSA says “some devices, including mobile phones,” but fails to be any more specific, exactly the sort of vague, malleable direction the TSA is fond of. Heathrow’s list of electronics includes hair dryers, electric shavers, cameras and mp3 players and the wording below the list says nothing more than “make sure your electronic devices are charged before you travel.”
This vagueness from everyone involved isn’t a good sign. Having to present devices not normally inspected by security personnel and power them up lends itself to “incidental” device searches. The heightened suspicion of devices in general doesn’t help. And wherever this “credible threat” the DHS cites in support of this move actually originates, it’s apparently hoped that it will route itself through Germany, France or the UK. At this point, no other countries offering direct flights to the US have agreed to the additional security measures.