Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
USA | By Kelli Rowe

Intel sharing at heart of US, Europe talks on laptop ban

Intel sharing at heart of US, Europe talks on laptop ban

Travelers were taken by surprise earlier this year when the Trump administration quickly rolled out a new rule banning passengers from bringing laptops and other large electronics into the cabins of certain flights bound for the United States.

But a senior USA administration official told reporters on a conference call that there were points of agreement and points they were continuing to discuss.

The broad topic of a laptop threat was less sensitive than the specific intelligence, which contained information from its context that could jeopardize the intelligence-gathering abilities of the USA ally.

Alarmed at the proposal, which airline officials say is merely a matter of timing, European governments held talks with their US counterparts on Friday.

The same ban is already in place for flights departing from ten airports in Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and North African countries based on concerns terror groups in those countries could sneak explosives past existing security checks on large electronic devices.

The ban would affect trans-Atlantic routes that carry as many as 65 million people a year on over 400 daily flights, many of them business travelers who rely on their electronics to work during the flight.

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Why do USA officials want to widen the ban?

"As such, well beyond lost inflight productivity, the significantly larger effect of a potential electronics ban is if, for example, a business traveler is going to London for a week, he will not have his laptop with him".

DHS spokesman David Lapan said no final decision had been reached to broaden the ban.

The goal of Wednesday's talks is to "create a consultation, create a sharing of information", said an European Union diplomat, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the talks were ongoing.

Officials told CNN that the ban came about following the collection of intercepted material and "human intelligence".

Aviation officials in the European Union and US are meeting on Wednesday to discuss aviation security, and IATA head Alexandre de Juniac called on officials in an open letter to consider alternatives to a ban, such as methods to detect traces of explosives at airport security checkpoints, better training of staff and use of behavioural detection officers.

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Both sides said they meant to hold more talks next week in Washington on a possible ban of such equipment.

EU's Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc also highlighted "the potential safety implications of putting a large number of electronic devices in the aircraft hold", according to a statement by the EU's executive arm last week.

"We did share additional information with our European partners today", the official added. Details of intelligence or how bombs could be concealed in devices weren't revealed in the briefing with reporters.

The Washington Post on Monday reported that President Donald Trump revealed to Russia's foreign minister and ambassador closely held intelligence from a USA partner about an Islamic State terrorist plot to use laptops as possible weapons aboard commercial aircraft.

The internationally-respected pilots union said: "Lithium battery fires, unless caught early can spread quickly and therefore official ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) advice is that devices should be kept in the cabin so that any potential fires can be spotted and extinguished before they enter a state known as "thermal runaway" - at which point they are nearly impossible to extinguish". "However, the question remains whether the targeted application of policies banning personal electronics is an effective measure to reduce the risk of terrorism".

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