Ban on carriage of large electronics – Proportionate response or just panic?

Government security services have a duty to act on intelligence and although we will never have the complete picture, one thing we do know is that the threat we face is changing rapidly. Those responsible for putting in place the appropriate new measures and regulations have to respond equally quickly.

Whether the latest additional safeguards requiring larger electronic equipment to be packed in hold luggage rather than carried in hand baggage are “a necessary, effective and proportionate response” as stated by the UK government, has generated much comment and debate.  Everyone seems to have an opinion and, although few are negative regarding the intent, many are critical of the application and its apparent lack of logic.  Why these specific airports?  Why now and not before? Why telephones are still allowed? Why should the entire travelling public be inconvenienced?

Few of these doubters seem to have put themselves in the position of a Minister or President assessing the probabilities and choosing from the available options.  How would you react to specific, credible and imminent threats and make a judgement based on intelligence and existing measures which are not 100% effective?   Those making these decisions are “damned if they do and damned if they don’t”.

Passengers will inevitably be frustrated by yet more security rules; the hassle of checking all bags into the hold; and for families, the lack of gadgets to entertain the children.  Many business travellers specifically take hand luggage to avoid the delays caused by waiting collect hold baggage.  To make matters worse, they will also be deprived of the opportunity to get on with some work during the flight.  Many companies have their own strict regulations about keeping laptops and tablets with you at all times – and definitely not sending them to the hold.   Having weighed up all the pros and cons, some people may simply choose to fly from a different airport, which is not subject to the same level of restriction.

But what is the alternative – do nothing and risk an avoidable tragedy?

Moving forward

The arms race between evolving threats and those trying to minimise the risk to travel and trade is likely to continue.  As ever, responses will require a blend of detection technology and trained, motivated staff backed up by the intelligence services and law enforcement.

Over time, this may lead to dedicated screening of electronics at a central search point and/or at the gate and, if effective, will probably have a significant impact on operations.  An increased use of Behavioural Detection Officers is possible, along with a review of access rights for airport staff and many other seen and unseen measures which form the layered approach to security.  It does also emphasise the importance of investing in future proof detection technology with the flexibility to be adapted or upgraded to meet tomorrow’s unknown threats.

Another thing we definitely do know is the decision to introduce these new measures was not taken lightly or in a panic.  Yes, it attracts criticism but the important point is that the changes have unquestionably been made to protect us as we travel.

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Kevin Riordan

Kevin Riordan heads the checkpoint solutions team for Smiths Detection serving the transport, critical infrastructure and ports & borders markets. The role is part of the overall strategy & marketing function working closely with Sales, Products & Technology and overall business management, interfaces closely with the customer community and key industry stakeholders in order to develop the sector; providing guidance for product strategy and subject matter expertise to all functions of the business.
He has previously worked for a number of UK government departments including the Home Office and the Intelligence & Security Secretariat of the Cabinet Office, responsible for research and development programmes and technical policy development.

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