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TSA Requires Charged Devices At Some Overseas Airports

Homeland Security tells US-bound air travelers at certain overseas airports that mobile devices need to be operational when boarding, or gadgets will be confiscated.

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The Department of Homeland Security just made it a bit more annoying to travel via airplane with electronics. Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson directed the TSA to put enhanced security measures in place at select airports overseas that offer direct flights to the US. Travelers need to make sure their gear is fully charged before boarding.

"As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cellphones," the TSA said in a statement. "Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening." In other words, charge up before you charge to the airport -- especially if you want to make your flight.

[Wasn't it supposed to be easier by now to bring your devices? Watch BYOD Expectations Just Keep Rising.]

The idea behind this measure is a simple one: Devices that function as the manufacturer intended probably don't pose a threat to travelers. In the eyes of Homeland Security, devices that don't or can't power on might not necessarily pose a threat, but are at the very least questionable. The last thing international travelers want is to be caught with a "questionable" device.

(Image: Alan Levine)
(Image: Alan Levine)

The TSA didn't define what constitutes "powering on." Does that mean the operating system has to launch in full? Does that mean the boot sequence has to initiate? Does that mean an LED bulb has to glow somewhere on the device? Further, the TSA didn't explain if or how travelers will be compensated if their devices are confiscated. Phones, laptops, and tablets run out of juice. It's a fact of life. Should employers and consumers alike be (even more) concerned about their gear when traveling out of the US? What's a mobile professional to do if his or her laptop -- stuffed full of sensitive work data -- is taken by TSA? The confiscation policy seems severe, especially when considering how expensive these devices are.

A seasoned traveler already knows to place his or her laptop in a separate bin, to empty all pockets, and to remove his or her jacket, shoes, and belt during security screening. At US airports, this routine has been in place for years. Security at European airports (at least those from which I've caught flights back to the US) don't necessarily force travelers to jump through as many hoops. The Department of Homeland Security did not explicitly list the airports where the new rules apply. It only suggested the enhanced screening measures will be in effect for US-bound flights originating from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

"We will work to ensure these necessary steps pose as few disruptions to travelers as possible," said DHS's Johnson. "We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry. These communications are an important part of our commitment to providing our security partners with situational awareness about the current environment and protecting the traveling public. Aviation security includes a number of measures, both seen and unseen, informed by an evolving environment."

Bottom line: Whether you're traveling abroad for work or to enjoy a hard-earned vacation, be sure to charge your devices -- enough so they can boot fully -- before heading to the airport.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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Peter Mantello
Peter Mantello,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 9:00:06 PM
Re: TSA Phone Inspections
To make policy based on conjecture can only be defined as the ficitional essence of the War on Terror. However,

a solution is at hand. Simply put an extension cord at the screening table. 90% of travelers carry their chargers.

For those that do not, TSA (since the waste huge amounts of money anyways on INSECURITY THEATRE, should have the basic charger models or at least adapters available for travelers. Worst scenario if a traveler is faced with losing a valuable piece of electronics and going to a designated space for charging and lose some time, I am sure they will take the other option.

But again, if you listen to the rhetoric espoused by security experts it is laden with terms like 'unspecific information', general trend, and the rise of terror related incidents. However, it has been statistically proven that death by a meteor strike is a 1000 times more probably than terrorist strike.

THe monetization of fear is perhaps the most lucrative industry next to the industry of war. 
User Rank: Moderator
7/7/2014 | 3:10:55 PM
Re: TSA Phone Inspections
I'm curious to know how the TSA plans to enforce this kind of screening at some rogue middle eastern airport...

Does anyone know how this works?

From the TSA website: We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry.

Hmmm...well yeah we wouldn't want to share any information with our non-allies of course, so if certain airports are deemed threats, how do you make a non-ally nation comply with a rule of US governmental body like the TSA?
User Rank: Ninja
7/7/2014 | 2:51:27 PM
Re: TSA Phone Inspections
@Thomas yes, I could see that happening easily. My phone typically holds charge fine for a couple of days and then suddenly seems to drop to zero. Normally I can charge it at home, but if I were en route, that could pose a problem. One of my friends shared the same news today and said she was glad she invested in a $15 charger to be assured her phone won't be confiscated. 
User Rank: Author
7/7/2014 | 2:39:38 PM
Re: TSA Phone Inspections
That's a good point about the cords. I wonder if there are outlets available for use, and whether powering up with a cord is acceptable. It would seem like an easy fix to the problem, since who takes their phone and no power cord? 
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/7/2014 | 1:53:05 PM
Re: TSA Phone Inspections
I see this being a problem when re-entering the US at an airport like JFK, after a long flight, to change planes. Your battery may be drained and you won't have any opportuntiy to recharge it before having to pass through security a second time after exiting passport control.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/7/2014 | 1:42:31 PM
Re: TSA Phone Inspections
It's surprising this has taken so long to come into effect. I don't know about anyone else, but the power cords for all my devices travel in the same bag, so even if a phone or laptop is out of juice, it's easy enough to plug it in on the spot.

User Rank: Apprentice
7/7/2014 | 12:05:45 PM
TSA Phone Inspections
Great.  Now, to kill a TSA employee and maybe destroy an inspection site, all a terrorist has to do is program a 'phone to detonate when the "on" button is pressed!

An exploding phone could be substituted by a terrorist pickpocket, so an innocent traveller is killed, too . . ..
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