News Mar 24, 2017 09:57 AM EDT

Tech experts criticize electronic ban from cabins of some Middle Eastern, African flights to US

By April Kirstin Chua

The US government has implemented an electronic ban on gadgets "larger than smartphones" in certain countries like the Middle East and Africa. It would require all electronic devices to be checked-in rather than carry them into the cabin according to a US official.

The official says that the electronic ban would affect some airlines flying into the US and would cover devices larger than a cellphone. This is due to a security concern regarding passengers boarding nonstop flights to the US from specific countries.

An airline official told CNN that there wouldn't be a threat to the US if a passenger transferred through a secondary city with an added and more trustworthy screening procedures. The electronic ban would ensure enhanced security measures at select airports for a limited time.

Some officials throw in their two cents on the electronic ban with one saying that the ban on some electronics could be related to the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP. The peninsula has been trying to build bombs that contain little or no metal content to target commercial aircraft. Another official claim that there had been concerns about attacks via electronics for some months but there's not enough information to permit an airline action before.

Meanwhile, technology experts criticize the electronic ban and questioned the safety implications. They believe that the same risks could exist in checked baggage. "It's weird because it doesn't match a conventional threat model," said Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. "If you assume the attacker is interested in turning a laptop into a bomb, it would work just as well in the cargo hold."

A security technologist called the new rules an onerous travel restriction saying that nothing has changed in the last dozen years and today. A professor, on the other hand, notes a potential problem with the electronic ban is that one can ignore the extent to which the terrorist threat is kind of state-less. Another says that it's a massive inconvenience to have to check a laptop and one can only imagine that such demand is met with resistance by air carriers.

Airlines have also commented on the new measures. Etihad Airways in the United Arab Emirates has received the electronic ban directive from the US government and is currently reviewing it. Emirates, on the other hand, says it didn't receive any notification but would any new operational or regulatory requirements issued by relevant authorities. Saudi Arabian Airlines claim that the new measures from the US Transportation Security Administration include a ban on laptops and tablets.

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