In-depth

Why explosive smartphone airport checks are pants

Davey Winder picks holes in the latest rules regarding electronic devices and airport security

Anyone whose business involves international travel will be well aware, and well weary, of the security measures that have been put in place over the last decade to protect us from terrorist threats.

The queue for security is always one of the most stressful, involving everything from separating your laptop from your other hand baggage, taking your shoes off, and removing anything liable to set off the metal detector.

I shouldn't complain, after all these measures are there to protect us; but are we really any safer or do these checks really just pander to the public perception of security and, by implication, make the political leaders look competent?

I ask the question as news emerges about how passengers set to board direct flights to the US will now face additional checks, involving the switching on of mobile phones to prove "they do not contain explosives".

As reported by IT Pro earlier today, The Department of Homeland Security in the US wants passengers boarding direct flights to the US to have charged up electronic devices, and - as part of the security screening process - passengers may be asked to demonstrate if their device can be switched on or not.

If the battery is flat or the device is defective, they may be asked to leave their devices behind on security grounds.

The last time I had to prove my mobile phone wasn't a bomb was on entering the stadium for a Seattle Mariners baseball match during a Microsoft tech conference not long after the 9/11 attacks.

Surely to goodness there must be a better way to detect explosives than this? It borders on the comedic, apart from the fact terrorism isn't funny.

I kind of understood the paranoia back then, but not the practicality of the process. Today I don't even understand the paranoia bit.

If the intelligence upon which these measures are based is accurate, the terror organisations have developed advanced methods of creating new explosive devices.

Not advanced enough to include a secondary battery that powers up the phone-bomb in order to pass these security checks, it seems.

If your smartphone has run out of juice, you will not be allowed to take it on the plane and you may be detained for further questioning. Yes, seriously.

But it gets even more ridiculous, as travellers with Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy devices will be specifically targeted, reports suggest.

Surely there must be a better way to detect explosives than this? It borders on the comedic, apart from the fact terrorism isn't funny. Mind you, I'm surprised that we haven't been asked to remove our underwear at the gate after a Yemeni bomb-maker built a pants-based bomb for use in aircraft back in 2009 (yes, seriously).

If you are travelling in the coming months, make sure your devices are fully charged. Maybe carry a spare battery pack and think about abandoning your iPhone or Galaxy.

Expect your other electronic devices to be open to the power up inspection as well. Personally, I'm not too fussed as my passport has expired and I'm still waiting for it to be replaced - but that's another rant for another day.

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