(Photo: PAUL J. RICHARDS, AFP/Getty Images)
After ramping up screening for international flights heading to the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration announced Wednesday that it will scrutinize electronics more closely domestically over the coming weeks and months.
Travelers in standard TSA checkpoint lines at airports will have to remove all electronics larger than cellphones from carry-on bags and place them in a separate bin with nothing else above or below for X-ray screening. Travelers in Precheck lanes will be able to leave electronics in their bags as they now do with laptops.
TSA’s goal is to get a clearer view of belongings in the jumble of carry-on bags after intelligence suggested terrorists have found better ways to hide explosives in electronics.
The stricter scrutiny is already in place at 10 airports where it was tested, and it will be phased in at all U.S. airports as workers are trained the procedures during the coming months, TSA said.
“It is critical for TSA to constantly enhance and adjust security screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats and keep passengers safe,” said Huban Gowadia, the acting head of TSA. “By separating personal electronic items such as laptops, tablets, e-readers and handheld game consoles for screening, TSA officers can more closely focus on resolving alarms and stopping terror threats.”
The threat of terrorists hiding explosives better in laptops prompted the Department of Homeland Security in March to ban electronics larger than cellphones in carry-on bags of direct flights of nine airlines at 10 airports to the U.S.
That ban has since been lifted as each of the airlines tightened their screening.
John Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, then announced tighter security for all 180 airlines flying directly to the U.S. from 280 airports worldwide. The measures that went into effect July 19 applied to 325,000 passengers on 2,000 daily flights.
“Whether you’re flying to, from, or within the United States, TSA is committed to raising the baseline for aviation security by strengthening the overall security of our commercial aviation network to keep flying as a safe option for everyone,” Gowadia said.
For domestic flights, TSA has been testing stricter electronics screening at 10 airports: Boise, Boston, Colorado Springs, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Lubbock, Phoenix and San Juan. The rest will be added as workers are trained to avoid hindering checkpoint lines.
“These changes will be phased in during the coming weeks and months,” said Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman.
Here’s what the change means for you:
How is screening changing?
At regular checkpoint lanes, TSA officers will ask travelers to remove all electronics larger than cellphones from carry-on bags and place them in bins for X-ray screening.
Nothing changes for Precheck lanes, where laptops already remain in bags because travelers have provided more information about themselves to TSA.
Why bother looking at electronics one at a time?
Security experts say the clutter in bags sometimes makes it difficult to spot suspicious objects. By placing electronics in a separate bin, the goal is for officers to get a better look at each device — and the possible threats inside.
Won’t this slow down checkpoint lines?
TSA will station officers in front of X-ray machines to recommend how best to arrange electronics for screening. TSA has already tested the process at 10 airports: Boise, Boston, Colorado Springs, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Lubbock, San Juan and Phoenix.
When is it coming to other airports?
TSA will phase in the process at all U.S. airports in the coming months, as workers are trained, so as not to hinder lines.
Why the extra scrutiny?
John Kelly, secretary of Homeland Security, said intelligence suggests terrorists have found better ways to hide explosives in electronics. Rather than play whack-a-mole with each new threat, Kelly said he is raising the baseline for aviation security worldwide.