May 122013
 May 12, 2013  Posted by at 8:38 pm Not So Stupid Questions  Add comments

[To celebrate my first year of programming I will ask a ‘stupid’ questions daily on my blog for a year, to make sure I learn at least 365 new things during my second year as a developer]

Why do I have to take my laptop out of the bag at airport security, and why not a tablet?

Why do I have to take my laptop out of the bag at airport security, and why not a tablet?

Went home to visit my parents this weekend, and as always I had to go through airport security. Norway is surprisingly strict, and I even have to pull out my iPod Nano – yes, that tiny little thing, all my phones, my tablet, and laptop. But most airports are happy with you just taking out the laptop. But why do we need to do this at all?
I had this whole theory that it was more to give a ‘sense of security’ than actually having a valid reason, but I looked it up, and here is what I found.
The metal and solder on circuit boards can’t be penetrated by x-rays, and if there are more items in the bag then it is hard to see if you are concealing something or not. That still doesn’t explain why other electronic equipment can be left in the bag, while laptops have to be pulled out. For many airports it seems to be a matter of size. It’s common to see things such as (Healthrow airport Q and A)

What is a ‘large electrical item’?
As a general guide, large electrical items – which must be removed from other baggage and protective sleeves prior to screening – are those that are approximately A5 size or larger, or where any dimension is greater than 20cm in length.

And this seems to be a trend in regards to answering the question why laptops but no other devices:

Size matters
Larger devices are more complex, harder to read on an x-ray and can conceal larger items. Frankly, this answer doesn’t do it for me.

Reaching out
Tablets such as kindle and iPad aren’t real computers so you wouldn’t be able to do as much harm – heard this from airport staff in Australia and Norway.
What? This is the most mysterious answer I’ve heard, I have no idea what they mean by that – but it seems like the staff isn’t tech savvy.

I honestly couldn’t, after searching for days, and asking at several airports, find out why the rules are as they are, and also why they vary so much from airport to airport. So for now I actually will stick with my original theory, it’s about making us feel safe and like somebody is thinking about our safety. And a minor part is to see how people react when they are being screened, hoping that body language will give them away. I doubt they actually expect to find something inside a laptop.
I might be very far of here, so I am very curious about you thoughts! And another question, have you lost or gotten your laptop damaged at security checkpoint at an airport?

  5 Responses to “Stupid Question 184 & 185: Why do I have to take my laptop out of the bag at airport security, and why not a tablet?”

  1. I guess tablets are ignored because they practically did not exist when the rule/ law was created. And as the laws haven’t really changed lately; neither have the security procedures…
    Airport security has alway been weird and full of political “actionism” (I don’t know if that word exists in english… I mean when you do something, just to do something to appear active).
    My favorite example: back in 2001 I was actually happy when metal cutlery was replaced with plastic: because the plastic-knives actually were sharper…

  2. I have been frequently asked to turn on the laptop, to make sure it’s an actually working laptop and not some explosive device in a laptop case or something.

    At least, that’s the explanation I got once. It didn’t make me feel any better 😛

  3. I had to take out both my Kindle and my iPad at most of the airports I’ve been to.

  4. Do I have to take out Surface Pro and Surface (RT) not? 🙂

  5. Back in the eighties, I had a computer operator who was a former customs agent. He told me that a lot of the stuff they did in customs was not because it was particularly good at finding things but because it made people with something to hide think more about the stuff they were hiding, at that point, so their body reactions could be observed in one location.

    I thought I’d read somewhere that the cutoff was indepependently scanning things that are expected to have a hard disk. They want to have a clear view of the outside of the disk.

    I *loved* the “more powerful” answer. Terrifying cluelessness. It reminds me of one of my favourite

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