A few days ago, the US Department of Homeland Security announced “enhanced security measures at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States” that includes the possibility that security officers may “ask that owners’ power up some devices, including cell phones.” This can also include laptop computers, although even before this directive I have been on rare occasions asked to turn on my laptop to prove that it’s a computer and not an explosive device.
According to Reuters, U.S. officials are concerned that terrorists from the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have figured out ways to turn phones into explosive devices.
I don’t have access to any military intelligence, but I do know that it is not only possible to turn a cell phone or a computer into an explosive device, but I have seen precise instructions online on how to turn a phone into a bomb detonator so that the bomb can be remotely set off from anywhere in the world. One phone detonator I saw still functioned as a real phone so I’m a bit concerned that Homeland Security’s solution could create a false sense of security by challenging terrorists to create cellphone bombs that also at least appear to work like real phones.
I hope that airport security posts have chargers for popular phones handy so that if a passenger does have a phone with a dead battery, they can plug it in to check it out. That would still cause a delay (it sometimes takes a few minutes before a phone with a dead battery will turn on) but at least they will be able to verify that the phone works.
Still, before leaving for the airport — especially on a return trip from overseas — it’s a good idea to make sure that your phone and laptop are fully charged. It’s also a good idea to bring a charger with you along with a portable charger or external battery that can charge or power-up your phone even if there is no outlet.