Technical experts criticise UK travel ban on laptops and tablets from Middle East

Technical experts have criticised the UK’s decision to ban laptops and tablets from hand luggage on flights from six Middle East countries. Following in the footsteps of the US, the UK government has imposed a sweeping ban on large electronic devices on inbound flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. 

However, some technical experts have hit out saying that the ban serves ‘no credible purpose’. Nicholas Weaver, researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California said that the concerns simply ‘make no sense’.

“If there are concerns about laptops on board being used as explosives, those same risks could exist in checked baggage,” he said. “Furthermore, many smartphones, which are not banned, have the same capabilities as larger devices.

He added: “If you assume the attacker is interested in turning a laptop into a bomb, it would work just as well in the cargo hold. If you’re worried about hacking, a [smartphone] is a computer.”

Security technologist Bruce Schneier heaped further scepticism on the ban, saying there is no greater threat from technology today as there was 12 years ago.

“From a technological perspective, nothing has changed between the last dozen years and today,” he said. “That is, there are no new technological breakthroughs that make this threat any more serious today.And there is certainly nothing technological that would limit this newfound threat to a handful of Middle Eastern airlines.”

Six UK airlines – British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson – and eight foreign carriers are affected by the ban. Effective immediately, the ban will not apply to flights where UK travellers board connecting flights in the blacklisted countries. Phones, laptops or tablets larger than a normal smartphone – specified as 16cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm (6.2in x 3.6in x 0.5in) – are all affected. No restrictions will apply to larger smartphones, including the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which are under the size restriction. However, many reading devices, including Kindles, are too large and will not be allowed in cabin baggage.

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