Personal Electronic Devices Dodge TSA Ban — For Now

At least for the time being, business travelers will still be able to take their laptops and tablets along as carry-on luggage when they board a flight. That is the decision by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), which lifted its ban on air passengers carrying aboard personal electronic devices larger than a smartphone earlier this summer.

The new TSA rules still require most passengers to remove their laptops or tablets from their carry-on bags for separate inspection before boarding, but will have them available for use during the flight. For business travelers, the separate inspection will be one more inconvenience of flying. However, it’s far from the serious disruption that an outright ban on carrying personal electronic devices aboard would have caused.

What Caused the Carry-On Kerfuffle?

The carry-on electronics kerfuffle was triggered, as the Los Angeles Times reported, by intelligence information that suggested that terrorist groups were developing bombs powerful enough to bring down an airliner and small enough to be concealed in a laptop or tablet.

In response, a restriction was placed in March on personal electronic devices aboard U.S.-bound flights of several international airlines. These devices could be checked as luggage but not carried aboard by passengers. In the months that followed, the TSA considered extending the carry-on ban of laptops and tablets to all U.S. flights before concluding that requiring separate inspection of personal electronic devices would provide sufficient scrutiny.

The Evolving Challenge of Flying With Personal Electronic Devices

For air travelers, many of whom rely on laptops or tablets to keep themselves occupied during a flight, the TSA’s decision to relent on an outright ban is welcome news. To the occasional business traveler, getting work done during a flight is a convenience; for the most frequent of business fliers, however, it is a necessity. These customers’ productive time would be severely curtailed if they were banned from working in the air. However, enterprise security specialists might have been quietly rooting for a ban, since anything that restricts employees’ mobile devices limits the risks associated with careless security practices.

Still left hanging in the air, so to speak, is the evolving security issue of personal electronic devices aboard airplanes. On one hand, improved scanning technology can give TSA a better look at personal electronic devices and eliminate any need for a ban. On the other hand, improved technology in the hands of terrorists could enable them to create concealed bombs that are harder to detect.

Given the evolving world of technology and mobile devices, we may face threats in the near that make the debate over carry-on personal electronic devices seem simple.

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Rick Robinson is a writer and blogger, with a current 'day job' focus on the tech industry and a particular interest in the interplay of tech-driven factors and business considerations - think of the relationship between virtualization and cloud computing. Rick also blogs at Rocketpunk Manifesto on outer space, possible futures, speculative technology, and speculative literature. He has also had print articles published on aviation and military history.