News & Events

Update for International Travelers: Flying with Computers and Smartphones (this week)

So the landscape—like dunes—shifts yet again…at least regarding what you can and can’t carry onto international flights…well, some of them anyway. Just last week, and driven by DHS’s own acknowledgement that the measure was crafted to thwart smuggling of “innovative methods…of explosive devices in various consumer items”, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security updated its fact sheet addressing the now-popularly-coined, “laptop ban”. This restriction prohibited all electronic devices larger than a cell phone or smart phone from being carried onboard the aircraft in luggage or any accessible mode. Thus, such devices over this size limit must be secured in checked luggage. Exceptions did, however, include “necessary medical devices” following screening.  Examples of such prohibited “large electronic devices”, according to DHS, include:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • E-Readers
  • Cameras
  • Portable DVD players
  • Electronic game units larger than a smartphone
  • Travel printers/scanners

The ban was first announced in March of this year, and initially applied to all travelers and their devices originating airports in ten Muslim-majority countries, impacting international flights bound for the U.S. By order of DHS. As of last week, however, there are  now three fewer affected airports, removing Dubai, Istanbul and Abu Dhabi from the list, and leaving seven specific airports to which it applies: Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), Cairo International Airport (CAI), King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED), King Khalid International Airport (RUH), Kuwait International Airport (KWI), Mohammed V Airport (CMN), and Hamad International Airport (DOH). At those countries in which the ban remains in effect, passengers on in-bound flights to the U.S. from the subject airports are still not allowed to carry the designated “large” electronic devices.

Of course, what hasn’t changed—and will remain constant in the future— is that “routine searches” may be conducted at U.S. borders without a warrant or suspicion of wrongdoing…all authorized by Title 9 of the U.S. Code, sections 482, 1467, 1496, 1581 and 1582 and  without constituting 4th Amendment violations.  When it comes to border security, U.S. Customs and Border Control (CBP), includes in its search authority the ability to examine electronic equipment such as computers, cell phones, and cameras. As the information contained in such devices becomes ever more comprehensive and personal, however, the policy has come under increasing scrutiny even as the number of people asked to hand over cell phones and passwords tripled from the year before.

What is certain is that we can expect more shifts in U. S. security policies affecting international travel—as threats and international relationships evolve.

 

Authored by Carol Thetford Montgomery and Jim Letten