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This Alternative to the Laptop Ban Would Tighten Airport Security at …

U.S. officials say they have uncovered evidence that the Islamic State was using Mosul University laboratories to develop bombs[1] that could pass through airport screeners undetected. When the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, captured Mosul, it also took possession of the modern screening equipment at Mosul s airport that would allow it to test its new bomb designs. This previously classified information is thought to be the reason that the Department of Homeland Security barred laptops and other electronics larger than a smartphone from the cabins of incoming flights to the U.S.

In March, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly implemented a ban[2] that affected 10 cities from the Middle East and Africa. The ban affects about 50 flights a day from these areas in total. Shortly after the U.S. announced the ban, the United Kingdom announced a similar standard[3] for incoming flights to its own territory. The Trump administration is also debating whether or not to expand the ban to European airports[4]. However, expanding the laptop ban to include Europe would be much more costly than the existing ban and would affect up to 65 million people per year.

The Department of Homeland Security and Congress should consider a cost-benefit risk analysis and seek out alternatives[5] to the ban. The benefit of a laptop ban is that it makes it harder to use a bomb on a plane though terrorists could overcome the ban by traveling from other regions not affected by the ban, or by designing bombs to go off remotely. On the cost side of the equation, this policy would likely result in several billion dollars in losses to travelers and tourism, as well as increased potential for losses from theft or damage to devices and possible aircraft fires from electronics in the cargo hold.

In terms of alternatives, there seem to be several options. First, the ban could be expanded even further, excluding large devices from planes altogether and extending the ban globally, as this would undoubtedly increase international security, though at even greater cost. Second, risk-based screening policies[6] could be applied at checkpoints that allow lower-risk passengers to proceed normally through airport checkpoints, but subject higher-risk individuals and bags to more stringent screening.

Third, an increase in bomb detection capabilities, like bomb-sniffing dogs or bomb detection equipment, could be deployed, though certainly at some cost. Similarly, airports could improve their baggage screening equipment to stop bombs. Indeed, the Transportation Security Administration is testing new 3D checkpoint scanning technology[7] to do just that. This technology, called computed tomography, has been used on checked baggage for almost a decade, and it is now small, quiet, and cheap enough to be placed at security checkpoints across the country.

The scanner works by producing a 3D image that can be manipulated for a more thorough analysis. Moreover, this technology is expected to speed up the long lines that currently exist in airports because liquids, gels, aerosols, and electronic devices could remain in passengers carry-on bags[8].

Computed tomography is an example of a potential alternative that the Department of Homeland Security should consider when looking to improve aviation security. Going forward, the department should constantly explore solutions to keep pace with the constantly changing threat environment.


  1. ^ the Islamic State was using Mosul University laboratories to develop bombs (
  2. ^ Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly implemented a ban (
  3. ^ United Kingdom announced a similar standard (
  4. ^ expand the ban to European airports (
  5. ^ consider a cost-benefit risk analysis and seek out alternatives (
  6. ^ risk-based screening policies (
  7. ^ 3D checkpoint scanning technology (
  8. ^ liquids, gels, aerosols, and electronic devices could remain in passengers carry-on bags (

Trump’s team using laptop ban to force global airport security upgrades

President Trump’s national security team is using the threat of a ban on laptops on international flights to the United States to force airports around the world to upgrade their security.

“The bar will be raised much, much higher than it is today,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Thursday during a national security forum on Capitol Hill. DHS has already prevented passengers flying to the United States from 10 Middle Eastern airports from carrying a laptop in the cabin of the plane. The ban was reportedly inspired by intelligence that terrorists from the Islamic State had learned to put bombs in laptops that could escape security detection. International airlines and businesses worry the ban will have significant economic costs, particularly if it’s expanded to cover European airports. That worry could motivate them to comply with Kelly’s security upgrades. “We the United States, the Department of Homeland Security are driving this effort and I believe, I don’t believe, I know, that routine security aviation worldwide will be raised to a much higher level,” he said.

Trump’s team has been accused of failing to explain the need for a laptop ban and neglecting the risk that the lithium laptop batteries, when stored together in the hold of a plane, could catch fire and cause a crash. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, however, defended Kelly’s security tactics.

“I’ve had the threat briefings,” the Texas Republican said. “The threat is real … they’ve gotten to the level of sophistication where I think you’re taking exactly the right precautions to protect Americans.”

Kelly said some of the new security policies will begin to be implemented in a matter of weeks, while others will be rolled out over several months or years.

“My desire is that all airports raise their minimum security to the level that we say it should be,” he said. “If they do then … travelers can travel with their electronics. If not, that’s their decision; we’ll simply ask them to not have large electronics travel in the passenger compartments.”

Liberals table bill to remodel national security services, oversight

OTTAWA Cyberwarfare. Data sets. Terrorist disruption powers. Welcome to a brave new world of Canada s efforts to counterterrorism abroad and at home.

With the National Security Act 2017, the Liberal government wants to empower Canada s ultra-secret electronic spies at the CSE Canada s counterpart to the Americans NSA to operate offensively in foreign cyberspace. But there will be more watchful eyes on the spies here at home.

The sweeping new bill introduced Tuesday proposes a new super-watchdog agency to review all national security and intelligence players, and to put CSE and CSIS under tighter ministerial and judicial control. Overall, the legal and constitutional framework for Canada s national security actors would dramatically change.

The showpiece is a proposal to stand up a big watchdog agency to be called the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency with broad powers and government-wide authority. It would replace two other watchdog offices that until now were more narrowly focused on CSIS and CSE alone.

It would be able to compel testimony and documents from 17 federal agencies and departments who have national security responsibilities, including for the first time the Canada Border Services Agency. It would have responsibility to oversee the cyberspies at the Communications Security Establishment or CSE, the traditional spooks at Canadian Security and Intelligence Service or CSIS, the Mounties, the border guards at CBSA, aviation and transport authorities at Transport Canada, the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship as well as the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada or Fintrac.

Only the RCMP s civilian review and complaints commission would remain in place, but the RCMP s national security activities would be reviewed by the new agency, to be known as NSIRA.

However, the bill does not entirely ditch the controversial terrorism disruption powers CSIS got under the last Conservative government. Rather, it proposes to explicitly define and limit those measures that CSIS would be allowed to employ.

With judicial authorization, CSIS agents would be limited to actions such as disrupting or destroying a terror suspect s communications, documents, equipment, financial transactions; or faking documents, interfering with a person s movements, or impersonating an individual other than a police officer.

The key, said Goodale, is that CSIS would have to first see whether another agency like the RCMP is better placed to act; and a court would only approve any CSIS action that infringes on a Charter right if CSIS shows it is a reasonable limit on the right.

The Liberal government was quick to claim it struck just the right balance.

Canadians expect their governments to do two things: protect our communities and uphold our rights and freedoms. Getting that balance right has always been the focus of the Liberal Party, and that s exactly what we re focusing on doing in government, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The proposal for a massive new national security review agency, separate from and in addition to the proposal last year to create a national security committee of parliamentarians, would at long last address criticism by several judicial inquiries and parliamentary committees that the national security apparatus operates in silos.

The stovepipes are gone, said Goodale.

The NSIRA whatever I have to get used to the new acronyms it will have complete jurisdiction to examine activities of CSE, whatever they are, along with other actors in the national security field.

The bill would for the first time enable the CSE, the foreign signals intelligence gathering agency, to act offensively not just defensively, to preventively jam, disrupt or destroy foreign threat actors that are deemed a risk, not just to the government of Canada, but to Canadian interests more broadly defined. That could include defending military personnel or assets abroad in a war zone. Or it could mean attacking foreign websites that seek to radicalize Canadians to terrorism. Such active cyber operations would require the permission of two ministers- of national defence and foreign affairs.

Introduced by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, the bill would establish new rules around the collection and storage of personal data by CSIS. And it sets up an independent Intelligence Commissioner to be a sober second set of eyes on warrants requested by CSIS and the CSE, and approved by ministerial authorization.

It addresses other Liberal promises, such as narrowing the definition of terrorist propaganda to target counseling others to commit an offence; narrowing the information-sharing powers of government departments to disclosure of information that is strictly necessary and related to national security mandates; and improving the appeal process for the no fly list.

But reforms will not go far enough for many.

Michael Vonn, of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said the super-watchdog agency is long overdue and urgently needed. But Vonn said the rights advocacy group remains disappointed that so much of the old Conservatives law is intact.

Vonn said the Liberals attempts to rein in intrusive information-sharing provisions of the Conservatives regime are an improvement but they speak to tinkering as opposed to reform. He said too little was done to address the dreadful lack of due process protections in the no-fly scheme.

Conservative MP Erin O Toole decried the rolling back of some of the former government s measures, saying the burden would be too high on law enforcement and prevent agencies from being effective.

The NDP said it didn t go far enough to address Canadians concerns about the old law s infringement on privacy rights. NDP public safety critic Matthew Dub criticized the failure to bar CSIS collection of associated data of Canadians who are not deemed threats. The promise was to fix the bill, he said.

Canadians have made it very clear that they do not trust the NDP with their safety and they do not trust the Conservatives with their rights, Goodale fired back.

Canadians expect their governments to stay ahead of the myriad complex and evolving threats in the world today, he told reporters. The horrific terror attacks in Manchester and in London and those closer to home demonstrate that challenge.

Goodale pointed to cyberthreats like the global Ransomware virus, espionage and foreign interference as equally complex and active threats. He said rapidly evolving technology, an unstable international political environment and emboldened adversaries mean Canada s national security agencies need a legal and constitutional framework to both operate effectively, protect Canadians rights, and retain their trust and confidence.

Overall, the Liberal government guesses the cost will be $97 million, with about $70 million of that new money and the rest reallocated from existing watchdog agencies.

In a surprise move, the proposed law would repeal the Criminal Code s provision for investigative hearings a post-9/11 measure that was only ever invoked once, in the course of an Air India investigation, but never actually used. The government says that shows it is an unnecessary tool for agencies to retain.

University of Ottawa law professor and national security law expert Craig Forcese posted a series of observations on the bill, saying it bears the hallmarks of careful deliberation, puzzling through problems. Totally different world from hell that was C-51 process.

He said the bill provides huge gains on review with the proposed broad review agency NSIRA eliminating siloed & stovepiped review as well as gains on real-time oversight of national security, through the new Intelligence Commissioner.

People will disagree on different solutions to problems, wrote Forcese, but this is the biggest reform of Canadian national security law since 1984 and creation of CSIS. We ve need this for a while.

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