Typewriters on a plane? The US travel ban on electronics

A photo of an aiplane
By Andrea Murad, CA Today

3 July 2017

If you’re flying to the US certain electronic devices might need to be checked in depending on your original destination - you need to know how to keep data safe and inflight alternatives. 

Any electronic device larger than a cell phone (6.3 by 3.7 inches) won’t be allowed in carry-on luggage and must be checked, including laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, portable DVD players, electronic game devices, travel printers and scanners. 

Necessary medical devices will still be allowed on board after passing through security screening.

That means anyone thinking of downgrading their equipment to a non-electronic typewriter might just be able to get around the ban, albeit with a sizeable cabin luggage. 

Your life is open to scrutiny

If travelling or returning to the US, before crossing the border, a traveller may also be asked to provide cell phone contacts and social media passwords, as well as answering questions regarding their ideology.

These procedures are part of President Donald Trump’s promise of “extreme vetting” to prevent terrorist attacks. The intent of these precautions is to determine whom someone is communicating with along with what they’re privately posting on social media websites.

Searching electronic devices is nothing new in the US; the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) started the practice near the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. What’s new is how invasive these searches have become.

US citizens can cross the US border without disclosing passwords as a citizen can’t be denied entry for not giving up this information, but the CBP can hold any person in detention for six hours and seize their device.

Once taken, the CBP may hold the device for five days and during this time, try to crack any encryption to search the device and copy files and metadata. 

If your device is taken, be sure to change passwords immediately. Foreign visitors or non-US citizens don’t have the same rights to cross the border and can be denied entry if they don’t comply.

How do I keep social media and work information private?

One way to avoid intense scrutiny and disclosure of business information is to travel with a burner phone or delete apps and other sensitive information from your device.

A burner phone is a ‘disposable’ pay as you go phone, and Wired even produced a guide to seven burner phones for travellers.

If you need to check devices, be sure to have backups stored in the cloud or on an external hard drive in case of that rare instance when luggage is lost or delayed in arriving at your final destination. Also, check that any luggage insurance covers electronic devices in case you need to replace these items.


UPDATE: As of 2 July 2017, restrictions have been lifted on Etihad Airways and their hub airport, Abu Dhabi, and on 6 July, restrictions were lifted on Qatar Airways and Hamad International Airport (Doha).  

Here is how the current travel ban for electronics is shaping up:

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