In Defense of Not Defending the Electronics Ban

“W e have seen successful airplane bombings recently with the downing of the Russian airliner over the Sinai and the attempted downing of the Somali airliner that could have succeeded if the bomber knew enough to get a seat next to a structural member instead of the aluminum skin. In both instances, it was found that the bomber had help from the local ground staff or security. So we hear that Al Qaeda is working on a manually-detonated electronics-based bomb. Why would we poo-poo this report and not act? You really want to wait until hundreds of people die in a bombing and then act? This is like the neighborhood that complains about a dangerous crosswalk, but the city only takes action and installs a light after someone is killed.”

In Defense of Not Defending the Electronics Ban

Let me start off by saying that I agree with most of what Glenn — I will not divulge his last name — of The Military Frequent Flyer wrote in this excellent article which defends the electronics bans that were recently implemented by the United States and the United Kingdom

…but the analogy of the dangerous crosswalk in the first paragraph of this article — which was quoted from the aforementioned article — is not necessarily applicable to this issue. For one thing, there is the assumption that if the neighborhood is complaining about the dangerous crosswalk, then the people in the neighborhood already generally know what is the problem. The electronics bans were implemented with no clear reason as to why; and even Glenn — who would have more access to such information than many people — admits “that people with a lot more information than us have determined that this was a real threat and we need to do all we can to prevent a terrorist incident.”

Continuing with that analogy, the traffic light itself might apply here to the electronics bans. Motorists can no longer use their own judgment as to when they are permitted to cross the intersection. They must now wait until a traffic light allows them to do so. It is a minor inconvenience at best which improves safety at that intersection. So, too, is the inconvenience of not traveling with most portable electronics devices on a relatively small number of long-haul nonstop flights from several airports or countries in this vast but shrinking world of ours…

…but what if the installation of that traffic light led to the implementation of a plethora of additional traffic lights, speed bumps and other traffic control devices which reaches the point of inconvenience outweighing the safety factor? Although other countries might be considering their own versions of the electronics ban, I do not expect it to be widespread throughout the planet to the point where international commerce is significantly stifled.

Safety and Security Overkill?

However, there have been policies which have been designed to protect the traveling public — or, at least, give the obvious appearance of that purpose — which have been called into question over the years. Remember when members of the military were armed and in full uniform as they were stationed in airports all over the United States after the terror attacks which occurred on Tuesday, September 11, 2001? Some people felt much safer seeing them as they traveled; while others believed that that was nothing more than a political presentation with little merit or substance.

Remember when the liquid ban was first implemented in the United States? Originally, absolutely no liquids were permitted aboard airplanes at first for fear of terrorists combining unknown liquids to create explosives before the current policy of placing liquids of no greater than three ounces each “comfortably” in a quart-sized clear sealable bag became effective. Although many travelers have seem to become used to what can be considered an inconvenience, there are still people who question its effectiveness to this day.

Removing shoes at airport security checkpoints is another procedure which many people thought was going overboard — despite the sole attempt by one individual to detonate a bomb in his shoes while aboard an airplane during a flight. Today, passengers are still required to remove their shoes at airport security checkpoints — unless they pay for the privilege of being a part of a government program where they are suddenly no longer required to do so in what some people believe is a form of passive extortion…

…and that leads to the perception of inconsistent policies. While I believe that being completely transparent about security measures is unreasonable — as nefarious individuals would be quickly equipped with the information they need to circumvent said policies and place them at an unfair advantage — the opacity of what may seem to be inexplicable and sudden implementations of invasive or restrictive procedures which lead to unanswered questions does not exactly fortify support from affected travelers.

Those are only a few of a number of policies which can be considered overkill where the balance between convenience with safety and security can be perceived as skewed and off kilter.

Summary

As with any issue, I believe that there is a combination of concern for the safety of the traveling public combined with politics and hidden agendas — but I also believe that there is an issue of a general lack of trust. Look no further than most elections and corporate appointments in recent years as a testament to a lack of trust in people who are tasked with setting an example and modeling the way for whom they serve. When policies are implemented by people in leadership roles who may not themselves be affected and therefore are detached from the results experienced by the constituents they are supposed to serve — and with their best interests in mind — the perception becomes one of disingenuousness.

Travelers have experienced impediments and inconveniences over the years — and have had to pay for the privilege in the form of numerous fees — all in the name of safety. Sure, a ban on liquids or electronics in and of themselves might be considered minor at best; but when dealing with myriad regulations, fees, policies, procedures, restrictions and other impediments all at once, that people who travel frequently will voice their opposition to yet another “enhancement” in the name of safety and security is not surprising.

The answer is obviously not to completely abolish the attempts to ensure safe passage for all travelers. That would be sheer lunacy…

…but I have said many times over the years that there needs to be a balance of smart safety and security measures with the simultaneous assurance that disruptions to travelers be kept to an absolute minimum. I do not have the answers to what exactly that looks like; but Glenn — whom I greatly respect — is correct about installing that traffic light only after a fatal accident occurs: are experienced technology and security people developing formidable technological countermeasures to what seems to be a hole in aviation safety and security? Why are they seemingly not successfully keeping ahead of the advancement of technology employed by terrorists instead of imposing bans and restrictions which affect all travelers?

Far be it for me to know it all and say I have all of the answers — I do not — but my passion is travel; and I want to continue doing so. Is wanting reasonable and effective safety and security combined with minimal disruption in the travel experience in and of itself really too much to ask?

Regardless of the answer, I still intend to avoid flying as a passenger aboard an airplane on a nonstop flight from one of the aforementioned ten airports to the United States — and the six countries to the United Kingdom — as long as these policies of banning most portable electronic devices are in effect. Perhaps that could be the hidden purposeful intent of those with political motives in an attempt to hurt the carriers who are directly affected by the electronics bans as speculated by some people — but I do not know that for certain; and what is important to me is to do whatever is in my control to ensure that my travels are as free of problems and impediments as possible.

Cameras are amongst the items not permitted in any passenger cabin as part of the electronics ban implemented by the United States from specific airports. Photograph ©2008 by Brian Cohen.

4 thoughts on “In Defense of Not Defending the Electronics Ban”

  1. Glenn (The Military Frequent Flyer) says:

    Good response Brian. I wish we could get on some “frequent flyer stage” and debate the points about airline security and terrorism. No one has all the answers, but debate helps frame the problem for an eventual solution.
    Remember no one ever applauds the Government agency that claims they prevent 98% of all terrorism deaths. We expect a perfect record.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      We can have that debate, Glenn (The Military Frequent Flyer). I think that is a great idea for the topic of an informal gathering of readers of both weblogs.

      If we can manage the logistics — chiefly, the location — we can ensure that this happens…

      …and I agree with you: no one has all of the answers; but a collaborative discuss not only helps to frame the problem — it could also produce some viable potential solutions.

      Besides — admittedly, selfishly on my part — it would be my pleasure to see you again…

  2. Cipta says:

    I have read Glenn’s aforementioned article and left a question which Glenn responded but not answered. Its regarding C4 and semtex that can be put into laptop batteries or compartment. I propose phone casing or custom batteries such as Mophie or Anker posed the same opportunities, rather than a slim laptop such as Macbook Air or Thinkpad X1 Carbon.
    I wonder, is it really a security concern, or rather bussines deal? Politician have to payback their campaign sponsors tough….

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Nothing of that nature would surprise me, Cipta; and I would not put anything past politicians…

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