HUNTER SAVERY ’20
The United States Department of Homeland Security has announced new restrictions on travel from ten airports in eight Muslim countries. The restrictions will mean that passengers on flights departing from those locations for the United States must check all electronic devices larger than a smartphone in their luggage. According to The Intercept, the countries affected by the new restriction include Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The restriction comes in the wake of the Trump administration’s attempt to ban all immigration from a number of majority Muslim nations. The targeting of majority Muslim nations in the new Homeland Security rules has led some observers to call it a “Muslim laptop ban.”
While calling the regulation a Muslim laptop ban might be a stretch, the rule is neither impinging on the rights of Muslims to own a laptop, nor the right of a laptop to freely express its religion. The new rules do place an undue burden on group of people who are so often the object of American xenophobia. Is preventing people on flights from majority Muslim countries an atrocity? Certainly not, but it is a telling act of discrimination. If the concept of banning laptops from the cabins of planes seems ridiculous, well, that is because it is. The Guardian recently interviewed several technology experts regarding the laptop ban, and they were understandably perplexed. The group pointed out that if a terrorist wanted to turn a laptop into a bomb, it would be just as effective in the cargo hold of the plane as it would in the cabin. Tech experts point out as well that the technology related to the ban has not changed in any significant way in years. Technologically speaking, the ban does not have a leg to stand on.
The ban only affects foreign based airlines such as Emirates, as all United States based airlines do not fly directly to America from the ten affected airports. Shortly after American Homeland Security put out the new restrictions, the United Kingdom announced similar restrictions affecting 14 airlines, six of which are from the United Kingdom. There had been subsidy disputes regarding the airlines now hit the hardest by the American cabin restrictions, leading some to believe that may be what is behind the ban. US airline carriers have long criticized carriers such Emirates, Etihad, and others for being unfairly subsidized by their governments. The British ban calls that theory into question however, as it affects British airlines as well.
The Muslim laptop ban is poorly thought out, but what else is new from a Trump administration. While the ban on laptops in airline cabins is not exactly a violation of human rights, it is an act of blatant discrimination. If there is logic in this new rule, it is certainly elusive. There is no precedent for terrorists using a laptop to blow up an airplane, no reason to believe that is a serious possibility with modern airport security, and no reason to target only certain majority Muslim countries with the ban. Maybe these actions make Trump supporters feel safer, but they come from a place of fear and irrationality. If there was a specific incident involving laptops, terrorists, planes, and the eight affected countries, then maybe the ban would make some sense. Most troubling is the fact that the new rules come on the heels of Trump’s attempted Muslim ban, so there is no question of whether or not discrimination is at play here.