Killing instead of saving?

THE laptop ban is coming. Can anyone doubt it?

Already, US President Donald Trump’s administration has imposed a laptop ban on flights arriving in the United States from 10 airports in eight Middle Eastern countries. Not only must laptops be checked in, so must any computing device larger than a mobile phone. Next, Washington is expected to broaden the ban to include flights from Europe.

Although the US Department of Homeland Security refuses to specify why the ban is necessary – it’s classified intel, you know – intelligence sources have told The New York Times and others that Islamic State terrorists now have explosives that can be hidden inside laptop batteries, and that can’t be detected by the X-ray machines deployed by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at passenger security checkpoints.

Apparently, the US government’s view – though, again, no one is saying – is that it’s more difficult for terrorists to set off a laptop bomb in the cargo hold than in the cabin, where they can manually detonate it. Plus, the theory goes, a laptop bomb in the cargo hold would need to be rigged with a timer, which could be more easily detected by scanners.

Even putting aside the most obvious flaw in this logic – that checked bags are scanned randomly rather than comprehensively – the ban has so many problems, and raises so many questions, that it is hard to know where to start.

Why does Homeland Security assume that laptop bombs will only be smuggled onto international flights, not domestic American ones? Why can’t it just insist that people go through airport security with their laptops turned on, so that TSA agents can see that they are computers, not bombs?

But there is one question that looms above all the others, or at least it should: Will a laptop ban actually increase the odds of an airplane exploding – not because of terrorism but because of the lithium- ion batteries that power modern computers?

Although this can’t be said with 100% certainly, the answer appears to be: yes.

Lithium-ion batteries are not benign devices; that’s well known among computer engineers and aviation experts. The liquid inside the batteries is flammable, and a short circuit can cause a fire. On rare occasion, the short circuit is the result of faulty design, as with a smartphone that was ultimately banned from flights and recalled by the company recently.

But sometimes it happens because a device is jostled or overheats. According to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there have been 160 “incidents” involving lithium-ion batteries in cargo holds since 1991.

In 2010 and again in 2011, cargo planes carrying pallets of the batteries caught fire and crashed. And last January, the FAA issued a warning about transporting batteries in the cargo hold, noting that “a lithium battery fire could lead to a catastrophic explosion”.

When a laptop in the passenger cabin spews smoke or bursts into flame – it’s happened some 19 times over the last five years, according to Christine Negroni, Forbes magazine’s aviation blogger – it is quickly noticed and extinguished. But a fire in the cargo hold won’t be noticed, and experts say that the heat from such a fire quickly grows too high to be extinguished by the fire containment equipment in the hold.

Read more @

Comments are closed.