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Great Britain to Follow United States Lead on Electronic Device Ban

Commercial airplane

The United States recently announced that it would impose a ban on certain electronic devices from being carried in the cabin of commercial airlines on flights from specific, predominantly Muslim countries. The new restrictions affect nine airlines flying from 10 airports in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Great Britain has followed the United States lead and imposed almost identical restrictions. The UK ban targets six countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, and affects multiple airline carriers both in the country and abroad.

Devices measuring more than 16 cm in length, 9.3 cm in width, or 1.5 cm in depth will not be allowed in the cabin of the plane, and must be checked into hold luggage before going through security. Devices such as laptop computers, tablets, Kindle, e-readers, Microsoft Surface, iPad Pro and even the Nintendo Switch gaming system will be banned from the cabin of the affected airlines. The ban does not, however, include most cellular phones. For example, the iPhone 7 plus and the Samsung Galaxy S7 are not subject to the new restrictions.

Officials from both the United States and Great Britain have stressed that these new restrictions are based entirely on intelligence concerning a new terror threat and not due to anti-immigrant sentiment. Both countries have received reports that Islamist terror groups have developed a new technique to hide explosives inside the battery compartment of electronic devices.

In February 2016, a member of the militant Islamist organization al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, smuggled one of these devices onto a Somali passenger jet. A sophisticated explosive device was built into a laptop computer, and passed through airport security, including an X-ray machine, without suspicion. The device was detonated by the lone assailant and blew a hole in the side of the aircraft. Thankfully, the plane had yet to reach cruising altitude, so the damage did not bring it down. It was able to land with only minor injuries to a couple of passengers. Experts believe that if the plane had reached cruising altitude, however, the blast would have triggered a secondary explosion in the plane’s fuel tank and would have resulted in catastrophic loss of life.

It is important to note, that this is not the first time terroristic threats have influenced heightened airport security measures. In 2001, an attempted shoe bombing on an American Airlines flight led to global footwear checks for passengers, and in 2006, an attempt to detonate liquid explosives disguised as a soft drink led to major restrictions on the amount of liquid allowed on commercial flights.

The United States and Great Britain have acknowledged that these new security measures are likely to cause frustration with thousands of airline passengers. Government officials are working with the aviation industry to minimize the impact of these new restrictions, but both countries are standing by their continued commitment to the safety of airline passengers.

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