Anyone who travels with a laptop computer is used to taking it out for screening by the TSA, prior to flying. But now, the TSA has also announced that travelers coming from overseas to the U.S. will need to have their phones powered up and available for screening as well.
Last week, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson issued a directive for the TSA, to begin checking to make sure that travelers devices are able to be powered up. My first thought was "who turns off their phone before going through the security checkpoint, anyway?" Apparently, terrorists do. The TSA has said, "During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening." That means your device better not have a dead battery, or they're going to keep it. It's also probably a bad idea to take along a new device that's never been opened, even if it's for a gift.
The DHS statement from Secretary Johnson read:
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. We will work to ensure these necessary steps pose as few disruptions to travelers as possible. We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry. These communications are an important part of our commitment to providing our security partners with situational awareness about the current environment and protecting the traveling public. Aviation security includes a number of measures, both seen and unseen, informed by an evolving environment. As always, we will continue to adjust security measures to promote aviation security without unnecessary disruptions to the traveling public.
That "recent and relevant information" is a reference to the growing concerns that Iraqi and Syrian jihadists may be trying to create a bomb small enough to be concealed in these electronic devices. Post 9/11, bombs have been successfully smuggled through security in a man's shoe, and another man's underwear.
Travelers slide their items to the X-ray machine [Getty Images]
In the case of the shoe bomber, Richard Reid tried unsuccessfully to detonate the bomb of a flight from Paris to Miami on December 22, 2001. He was subdued by other passengers, and later plead guilty to eight counts of terrorism. The underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is a Nigerian who tried to detonate plastic explosives concealed in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, on Christmas Day of 2009. Both men are being held in U.S. prisons with no chance of parole.
According to NBC News, U.S. officials have singled out iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones for these extra checks on U.S.-bound direct flights from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.