DHS: No European laptop ban for now – Politico
The U.S. opted Tuesday not to ban laptops from the cabins of planes flying to the United States from Europe — although the Trump administration later said such a move remains “on the table” as it examines intelligence about terrorist threats.
European sources said the matter appeared closed for now after weeks of back-and-forth negotiations and panicked responses from airlines.
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“No ban,” a European Commission official said after a conference call Tuesday between U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and two of his European counterparts. “Both sides have agreed to intensify technical talks and try to find a common solution.”
In a statement, DHS said Kelly and the Europeans agreed “on the need to raise the bar for aviation security globally, including through a range of potential seen and unseen enhancements.” It added: “Secretary Kelly affirmed he will implement any and all measures necessary to secure commercial aircraft flying to the United States — including prohibiting large electronic devices from the passenger cabin — if the intelligence and threat level warrant it.”
“[W]hile a much-discussed expansion of the ban on large electronic devices in the cabin on flights to the United States was not announced today, the Secretary made it clear that the an expansion is still on the table,” the department said.
Tuesday’s news came as relief to some on both sides of the Atlantic, where industry officials had feared that the restrictions could cause massive logistical bottlenecks and inconvenience business travelers. Kelly had said on “Fox News Sunday” that his department was considering imposing the ban on all U.S.-bound international flights.
Kelly held a conference call Tuesday with European Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc. The U.S. side took into account European concerns about the safety implications of storing personal electronic devices with lithium batteries in aircraft cargo holds, a European source with knowledge of the conversation said.
Lithium batteries can ignite in rare cases, which can make it dangerous to place them in holds where they cannot be extinguished by cabin crew.
In March, the U.S. banned larger personal electronic devices in the cabins of direct flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa. The current U.S. ban affects 350 flights per week. If it were extended to Europe, it would affect 390 flights per day, according to the International Air Transport Association.
U.S. authorities have said the Middle East laptop ban was based on intelligence about terrorists’ growing skill in hiding explosives inside consumer electronics — the same topic that prompted President Donald Trump’s controversial discussion of allegedly classified information with Russian officials early this month.
Speculation about expanding the ban has swelled in recent weeks as DHS officials held multiple briefings with U.S. lawmakers, airline industry representatives and EU officials.
In the U.S., both Democratic and Republican lawmakers said they believed that the aviation threats discussed in classified briefings were credible. But industry officials in Europe have complained about the impact of enforcing the ban, and some EU officials have said the U.S. seemed unmoved by their opinions on the matter.
Travel groups said the disruption of banning laptops from so many flights would be especially harmful to business travelers, who tend to work while aloft and whose employers often require devices to be kept on their person to guard against thefts of corporate information. Some in the industry hoped that the expanded ban would be a temporary measure.
“We continue to stress that any and all security policies should constantly be reassessed and evolve as appropriate, and that measures should be pursued that effectively cope with valid threats while minimizing disruption of legitimate travel,” U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President Jonathan Grella said in a recent statement.
Some security experts also raised concerns that a unilateral, U.S.-imposed ban would worsen relations between the United States and Europe, already strained by Trump’s criticisms of Germany, his refusal to join the G-7’s statement supporting the Paris climate agreement, and U.S. leaks about last week’s terrorist bombing in Manchester, England.
“Intelligence information sharing is more important now than it has ever been,” said Colin Clarke, a political scientist at the RAND Corp. “The fact that that [the electronics ban] is driving a wedge between countries is concerning.”
DHS spokesman David Lapan has said previously that while DHS agreed to meet with Europeans to help them understand the terrorist threat that the U.S. was attempting to address, Kelly alone would ultimately make the final decision.
Stephanie Beasley contributed reporting from Washington.