US airlines threaten to confiscate phones and laptops that aren’t charged: Our biggest fear is being separated from our gadgets

Rhodri Marsden examines our anxiety about gadget separation

Many years ago, when my dad was a teacher at a secondary school in Hertfordshire, an anonymous call to the school prompted a bomb scare. The fire alarm sounded, the children traipsed obediently to the assembly point on the school field, and staff were asked to volunteer to go from classroom to classroom “to look for the bomb”.

My dad was one of the few who put his hand up. No one found a bomb. That evening, on hearing this story, my mum looked at him in disbelief. “And what do you think a bomb looks like?” she asked him. My dad paused, probably imagining a black sphere with the word “BOMB” written on it. “I have no idea,” he confessed. Of course he hadn’t.

Bombs are, by their very nature, designed not to look like bombs. Their latest possible disguise, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the US body that dictates screening criteria for flights to the US, is the casing of an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy; as a consequence, devices that fail to power up at check-in may not be allowed on the plane.

With the miniaturisation of technology comes the inevitable miniaturisation of explosive devices. It’s not particularly surprising that a device with the potential to cause catastrophe can be packed into a black lozenge approximately five inches by three, but while the biggest issue is evidently our safe passage on flights across the Atlantic, the biggest outcry has been saved for the potential confiscation of electronic devices, be they phones, tablets, laptops or whatever.

There’s an irony that the interminable wait for an intercontinental flight is a guaranteed battery drainer, as idle searches and bored tweets lead to flashed-up warnings and pulsating red indicators, sending us scurrying into branches of Boots or WHSmith to look for concealed power points normally used to power vacuum cleaners in the small hours of the morning. The reassuring prospect of charging one’s dead phone on board the aircraft has been replaced by the fear it might be removed from the flight altogether as a potential security risk. Panic is spreading – not because of terrorism, but because of anxiety surrounding gadget separation. That’s where we’re at in 2014, ladies and gents.

People travelling on flights yesterday from Heathrow Terminal 3 to the USA reported no change in policy as yet, no requests to demonstrate the working capability of any smartphone. But indignant travellers have been venting online fury, whether it’s ranting at the supposed efficacy of  X-ray machines designed to detect explosives, paranoid grumbling at the security services (“they need your phone to have power so that they can read all your messages”), or bemoaning the anticipated delays at check-in as people reassemble their belongings after inspection of laptops, phones, tablets, external drives and the spare external battery they bought to avoid everything running out of juice while waiting in the queue.

No one seems to have considered the possibility that there might even be a helpfully positioned power point to allow dead devices to spring back into life – after all, this is about preventing acts of terrorism, not the government assembling a massive iPhone collection.

Of course, there’ll always be those that question restrictions on freedom during times of terrorist activity, but these particular measures seem to be predicated upon the simple fact that my dad belatedly realised more than 30 years ago: we don’t have a clue what bombs look like, and we never will. Today it might be a dead smartphone. Tomorrow it might be a smartphone that actually powers up. Then what?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst - Tunbridge Wells - £30,000

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Test Analyst/Systems Administ...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - .NET, C#

    £40000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Global Real Estate Software P...

    Recruitment Genius: Drupal / PHP Developer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for a talented...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Technical Support Engineer

    £17000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continuing growth, recru...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project