TSA’s Mobile-Electronics Checks Coming to U.S. Airports

A limited number of domestic travelers selected for extra screening at U.S. airports will be made to turn on their electronics to show the devices aren’t bombs, said two people familiar with the government’s plans.

The Transportation Security Administration had said earlier this month it was making some fliers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East turn on their laptops, phones and other devices. That requirement is now being expanded to certain passengers on domestic flights, said the people, who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t public.

U.S. and European authorities have been on heightened alert for Islamic extremists traveling from western nations to Syria and then returning home as potential terrorists.

“TSA is doing what they should be doing, being proactive about stopping a terrorist attack,” said Courtney Temple, director of government relations at the U.S. Travel Association.

The new procedures aren’t likely to cause widespread delays as long as they’re applied on a limited basis, said Temple, whose Washington-based trade group represents airlines, hotels and rental-car companies.

The checks at U.S. airports won’t apply to every flier, and will be used more sparingly than overseas, said the two people familiar with the plans. Other procedures, including different kinds of pat-downs and shoe checks, won’t be brought to U.S. airports, the people said.

Airport Delays

Added checkpoint procedures have the potential to create airport delays. The TSA in recent years had been trying to move an increasing number of U.S. fliers into its Pre-Check trusted traveler program after backlash over onerous screening procedures.

The TSA won’t publicly specify which travelers will be affected. All electronic devices are already subject to security checks, including being run through screening machines.

The TSA adjusts security measures to fit evolving threats, a Department of Homeland Security official said, without citing any specific threat. Information about security enhancements is sensitive, said the official, who asked not to be named because the decision hasn’t been made public.

During the new security examinations, screeners may ask that owners power up some devices, including mobile phones, the DHS official said. Devices selected for this screening that can’t turn on won’t be permitted to board. The traveler may also undergo additional screening.

Shoe Bomber

The overseas electronics checks were disclosed on July 6. London’s Heathrow airport, Europe’s busiest, has said it’s among the facilities where they’re in place. The airport told passengers to make sure electronic devices are charged because units that don’t switch on may not be allowed on board planes. British Airways also warned transfer travelers not to deplete power on devices during the first part of their journey.

Airport footwear inspections became standard in the U.S. after a U.K. citizen, Richard Reid, tried to ignite explosives in his high-top sneakers on a flight to Miami in 2001. In 2006, carry-on liquids became a security focus after U.K. police said they foiled a plot to blow up U.S.-bound jets.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose department includes TSA, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on July 6 that the U.S. government had taken “appropriate measures to deal with the existing situation and not unnecessarily burden the traveling public.”

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