New Travel Restrictions – the thin edge of the wedge

The aircraft cabin ban on large electronic devices, announced overnight by the US and UK authorities, is surely a portend of things to come.

Following the new carry-on restrictions, passengers on direct flights to the US and UK from 10 airports in predominantly Muslim countries – including Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – must place any electronic devices such as laptops, IPads and e-readers in their hold luggage and can no longer carry them with them in the cabin.

The ban appears to be due to intelligence about a possible terror threat to US-bound flights from IS, according to media reports.

An aircraft cabin ban on large electronic devices was prompted by intelligence suggesting a terror threat to US-bound flights, say US media.

The US and UK have announced new carry-on restrictions banning laptops on certain passenger flights.

However, although the restrictions only currently apply to certain airlines, airports and the US and UK, it is hard not to see this as the thin edge of the wedge. Other European and Western nations will feel obliged to follow the American example, whilst the travel ban will surely extend to transit airports – those which are used as interim destinations for those travelling on to the USA, UK and other European countries.

Eventually is hard to see the government of any developed nation being bold enough to risk non-implementation in the event that a terrorist attack subsequently materialises.

The next step will be to ban mobile phones – after all, many IEDs (Improvised Electronic Devices) are triggered using mobiles – from the cabin, and then to ban the transportation of electronic devices altogether. After all, it is actually easier to scan electronic devices when they are placed in cabin bags than when they are checked in directly into the hold.

And, if the argument holds true for planes, then the same for other forms of transport – trains, buses, subways, taxis, etc.  Ultimately we may get to a situation where it will be forbidden to carry any electronic device on any form of public transport whatsoever.

This implications of this are profound and ultimately depressing. Many workers use laptops on planes to catch-up on work, whilst harassed parents will often keep bored children occupied with an IPad or computer game on a long flight. With such devices being banned, productivity will suffer, whilst passenger angst and dissatisfaction may well rise. Furthermore, placing expensive electronic devices in the hold increasing both the risk of damage and/or theft.

In fact, the latest ban is a further indication how terrorism, or its threat, continues to affect people’s lives. Before 9/11, people were accustomed to using planes like a bus, hopping freely on and off, moving easily through airports and giving little thought to security or safety, beyond normal concerns about aircraft maintenance and pilot error.

All that changed with the attacks in New York, and now people have had to accept long security lines, restrictions on the transportation of liquids and a host of other travel inconveniences imposed in the name of public safety.

Adding a ban on the use of electronic equipment whilst travelling is now a further step on the road backwards, and plays into the hands of those who wish to close borders to foreigners and treat people with different skin colours, ethnic origins, political affiliations or sexual orientations as suspicious.

A common mantra that politicians often echo is that we should not allow terrorists to dictate how we live our lives. It is hard to escape the conclusion that we already do.



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