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21 March 2017

Why is the UK banning laptops on flights from the Middle East?

Critics are questioning why the security measure only applies to airlines coming from the Middle East. 

By New Statesman

The UK has just announced a ban on electronic devices in carry-on luggage on flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. The ban is effective immediately.

The restrictions on devices such as laptops, tablets, DVD players, and some large phones follow in footsteps of a US ban affecting eight countries and nine airlines announced late Monday evening. Devices measuring more than 16cm in length, 9.3cm in width, or 1.5cm in depth will need to be checked-in to hold luggage. 

Why?

The US Department from Homeland Security cited “the 2015 airliner downing in Egypt; the 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia; and the 2016 armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul” as evidence that terrorist organisations are smuggling explosives inside electronic devices. A spokesperson from Number 10 stated that the UK have been “in close touch” with the US during the decision-making process.

Why now?

A government spokesperson says the restrictions have been implemented after Theresa May met with security officials this morning, after chairing several similar meetings over “the last few weeks”. It is likely that a specific security report inspired the ban, though no details on this have been made available.

Which airlines are affected by the UK ban? 

The UK airlines which are affected are : British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2.com, Monarch, Thomas Cook, and Thomson

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Overseas airlines affected are: Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airways, Atlas-Global Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Egyptair, Royal Jordanian, Tunis Air, Saudia

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Why predominantly Middle Eastern countries and airlines? 

It is not apparent why a measure ostensibly about safety has not been implemented universally, as with the liquids ban. If the measure was truly about security – and not simply security theatre – it would make sense for something that is considered dangerous by security experts to be banned worldwide.

So what really might be behind it? 

Apart from good old fashioned Islamophobia, Henry Farrell speculates in the Washington Post that Trump is attempting to bolster business for US airlines. Unlike in the UK, the US ban affects specific airlines, not just countries, meaning that US airlines not implementing the restrictions will gain new customers. 

As for the UK, Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport said the government are “working with the aviation industry to minimise any impact”. It is possible that the government recieved a credible security threat and are attempting to implement measures that don’t affect the majority of Britons. 

But will these measures be effective?

Critics note that any potential terrorists can merely change flight in a different country, or depart from a different country in the first place. 

Experts also argue that placing lithium batteries in checked backage is also dangerous, as they are a fire hazard. 

Evan Hill, a prominent writer about the Middle East, has also stated that the measures will put journalists’ personal and private information at risk, and therefore hinder reporting.