The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began implementing a policy this week barring international air travelers en route to the US from bringing uncharged or “powerless” electronic devices onboard their flights. The new restriction is one element of heightened airport security measures announced by the US government last week in accordance with its latest “terror alert.”
If an electronic device cannot be turned on because its battery is dead, passengers will be forced to leave the device behind or be turned away. Travelers carrying powerless devices may also face further security procedures. No information has been provided about what will happen to powerless devices or whether they will be confiscated permanently.
The new policy is part of efforts by the US government to exert greater control over air travelers and opens the door to more invasive searches of personal electronic devices in the future. Great Britain, France and Germany have all agreed to enforce the powerless phone ban.
Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced tightened security at foreign airports with flights to the US. Johnson declared, “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.”
This further gutting of privacy rights is, as with every previous such measure, being justified as necessary to meet the threat of Islamic terrorism. According to a report published by Reuters, the terror alert was launched in response to supposed threats to attack airplanes made by Yemeni and Syrian terrorists, using explosives embedded in cell phones.
The TSA has steadily ramped up draconian and constitutionally dubious security procedures. In 2010, it required the installation of full-body scanners, the equivalent of electronic strip searches, at all major US airports. Passengers are given the alternative of an aggressive pat-down that many consider a form of sexual harassment.
The new regulation on cell phones represents a further blow to the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects” established by the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. This key component of the Bill of Rights has already been virtually annulled by the National Security Agency’s mass warrantless surveillance.
If security officials can confiscate your phone at the airport, why not at the mall, the market or any other public venue?
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made clear that such aggressive measures are to be normalized, insisting that the powerless cell phone ban is not “a one-off, temporary thing.”
“This is the world we now live in,” Clegg said. “I don’t want people to think that this is some sort of blip for a week. This is part of an evolving and constant review.”