UK tightens aviation security, requires travelers to turn on gadgets

By Nicole Arce, Tech Times | July 9, 8:46 AM

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British Airways

The U.K. Department for Transport is requiring all passengers flying in and out of Britain to turn on their cell phones and other mobile devices in response to a terror threat that militants have discovered how to disguise bombs as mobile phones.
(Photo : Mark Harkin)

Britain's transport department follows in the footsteps of the United States and beefs up airport security by requiring passengers to have their mobile phones turned on at the security counter.

This is in response to a terror threat revealed by Washington on Wednesday last week that was followed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson's announcement that all airports in the U.S. will be requiring passengers of flights coming from unnamed cities abroad to charge their phones and prove that they can be turned on.

Although the Department for Transport (DfT) said last week that there will be no "significant disruption" at security checks, the department announced Tuesday that it will be asking passengers on certain flights to show that their mobile devices are not explosives disguised as un-charged cell phones. Passengers who refuse to comply will be asked to board the plane while leaving their devices behind and wait for the airline to forward their phones to any address they provide.

"In line with the U.S. advice, passengers on some routes into and out of the U.K. may now also be required to show that electronic devices in their hand luggage are powered up or face not being allowed to bring the device onto the aircraft," said Patrick McLaughlin, secretary of transport, in a security advisory. "Passengers flying into or out of the U.K. are therefore advised to make sure electronic devices being carried in their hand luggage are charged before they travel."

This comes after American intelligence announced that Yemen-based Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, Al Qaida's chief bomb maker, has flown to Syria to teach Islamic militants how to develop explosives that look like everyday consumer electronics and bypass standard airport security checks. The terror threat in the U.K. remains at substantial, said the DfT.

The department cited "obvious reasons" that prevented it from specifying which routes will be affected. There is also no mention of what specific devices may become a target at security counters. However, a report made by Reuters said U.S. security officials are keeping a keen eye on passengers of flights coming in from countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Reuters also said passengers who have Apple iPhones or Samsung Galaxy devices are being singled out at security checks. The U.K.'s hand luggage rules also include devices such as tablets, MP3 players, cameras and electric shavers.

"The U.K. government keeps aviation security under constant review in conjunction with international partners and the aviation industry," the secretary said. 

Meanwhile, the Australian government also announced that citizens flying to and from the land down under will also be affected by the tightened security measures. Although Australian airlines will not be checking passengers' mobile devices, Australian passengers at affected terminals will be required to power up their phones at the security counter. 

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