How the Trump administration's electronics ban is different from the attempted travel ban

How the Trump administration's electronics ban is different from the attempted travel ban

On Tuesday, the Trump administration barred passengers from 10 airports in eight majority-Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa from carrying a variety of electronic devices onto nonstop flights bound for the United States.

The ban, which only applies to non-U.S. based airlines, affects all electronic devices except cell phones and medical devices.

The move was called an "electronics ban" or a "laptop ban" by the press, and a "Muslim laptop ban" by some on social media.

"A Muslim ban by a thousand cuts"

One source, quoted as a former administration official, told BuzzFeed News the electronics restriction was an attempt by the Trump administration to enact a "Muslim ban by a thousand cuts," after two executive orders restricting travel from majority-Muslim nations were thrown out in federal courts.

The Department of Homeland Security cited "the 2015 airliner downing in Egypt, the 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia and the 2016 armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul" as reasons for the ban. 

But in the case of 2015's Metrojet flight 9268, the airport from which the flight originated — Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport in Egypt — is not one of the airports affected by the ban. Neither is Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu, Somalia, the origination city for Daallo Airlines flight 159, which was brought down by a bomb in 2016.

The ban affects U.S. allies

Moreover, many of the countries affected by the laptop ban, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are close U.S. allies in the war on terror.

Experts questioned the efficacy of the ban. In the Washington Post, Max Bearak asked:

If a laptop can be converted into a bomb, what difference does it make if you check it or carry it onboard? Does that imply that the screening process for checked baggage is more stringent than for carry-ons? Haven't most in-air bombing incidents been caused by explosives in the cargo holds of planes?

"Frankly, I'm amazed by this measure," Anthony Glees, director at the University of Buckingham's Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, told Forbes. "To me it makes no sense whatsoever in security terms; my guess is that its significance is wholly political ... What countries need to keep them safe is security-informed activity, not politics-informed activity."

Others praised the order. A bigger bomb equals a bigger explosion, and it's preferable for one to go off in a plane’s cargo hold versus the passenger cabin, former TSA director Kip Hawley told Wired. "You really need a big bomb to knock a plane down underneath the floor," he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has refused to comment on whether it plans to appeal the ruling from a federal judge in Hawaii that blocked Trump's latest travel ban.