Welcome to the newest edition of The Why. “Why is the TSA worried about my cell phone?” you ask? Good question . . . especially considering we’re in summer vacation season.
The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) recently released a new set of security measures for flights headed to the United States. Their concerns that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula could be singling out U.S.-bound planes is based in part upon a 2010 discovery of two bombs capable of downing an aircraft on a U.S.-bound cargo plane. The devices were meant to be set off by cell phone and additionally included parts from cell phones.
The fact that the TSA appears to have targeted cell phones has apparently annoyed a number of our regular readers especially those who own Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones which have been (according to such sources as Reuters and Time “singled out for extra scrutiny.”
While Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson did not name those devices in the official TSA statement, someone from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stressed to Time “the (new) search will cover a wide range of electronic devices” adding that inspection of items won’t be “focused on (just) two manufacturers.”
Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, R. John Hansman, claimed: “there’s not anything particularly unique about Samsung [Galaxy] or iPhones in terms of their technology.”
Experts in terrorism and aviation point out however that if Samsung and Apple cell phones are more heavily scrutinized it’s because of classified information garnered by U.S. intelligence. Glen Winn, an aviation security expert, elaborated: “Somewhere, somehow, somebody has recovered those devices by those names, which were probably used in the process of developing an explosive that would be detonated by the use of one of those, or (US officials) have first hand intelligence information.”
The DHS official declined to comment on the specifics of TSA’s decision to ask passengers to turn on cell phones, though experts agree that asking travelers to power up phones will show “if the phone that the person has is in fact a phone,” Winn said.
Still, before you go off like an Independence Day present from Allah, check out the TSA’s public reports which show that cell phone seizures at our airports are actually rare. Furthermore, most confiscations aren’t of “improvised explosive devices.”
The report shows that thus far this year there have been five incidents of “cell phone” confiscation at US international airports and only one at a domestic-only US airport. Five were stun guns made to look like cell phones. Another contained a knife. None of them were anything like Samsung Galaxy or iPhone devices.
(You really want something to worry about? Worry about good, old-fashioned firearms. TSA information on folks totin’ guns in US carry-ons just might shock you. That, however, is fodder for another column.)
Yes, the increase of risk in cell phone-related threats is like many things debatable. However, experts all agree that the danger is real and present. As Winn concluded: “We know that cell phones and electronic devices have been used to set off bombs. That’s not a mystery. That’s a fact.”
Why is the TSA worried about my cell phone? Now you know.
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