The United States and the United Kingdom just announced that laptops (and other electronic devices larger than a cellphone) would have to be checked as luggage and could not be carried by passengers into cabins when traveling on non-stop flights from certain destinations in the Middle East and North Africa, including Istanbul, Cairo and Doha, among others. I’m sure that some readers wondered how they were going to work on such flights while another (possibly much larger) group wondered how they would watch “Batman v. Superman” or “Bad Santa 2” during their flights home.
Of course, I wondered whether you would be arrested when you landed if you put in the hold a laptop with export controlled technical data, technology or software. That’s because I’m always looking out for my readers.
The issue, at least as far as BIS is concerned, is whether License Exception TMP or BAG still applies if you separate yourself from the laptop with controlled technology or software at check-in. TMP covers company laptops and BAG will cover personal laptops owned by the passenger.
Under section 740.9(a)(1) of License Exception TMP, items that are exported as “tools of the trade,” which includes software and hardware, “must remain under the “effective control” of the exporter or the exporter’s employee.” I would take this to mean that if the laptop or software on it is controlled for the destination from which the employee is returning, it may not be checked. This is somewhat odd since that same provision allows that laptop and software to be shipped “unaccompanied” within one month prior to the employee’s arrival in the foreign country.
On the other hand, TMP does not impose the “effective control” on technology on a laptop that would require a license for the traveler’s destination. Instead, section 740.9(a)(3) speaks only of access controls such as a password for the device on which the technology is controlled.
License Exception BAG, under section 740.14(c)(1), only applies to items “owned by the individuals (or by members of their immediate families) … on the dates they depart from the United States.” So this exception would only apply to personally-owned laptops and personally-owned software if they are controlled to the traveler’s destination. Oddly, license exception BAG does not have the “effective control” limitation, so personal laptops could be checked consistently with the license exception even with EAR-controlled software. Additionally, BAG permits export of technology on the laptop, in the hold or the cabin, if there are access controls such as a password.
The ITAR deals with this travel issue in section 125.4(b)(9). As with EAR-controlled technical data, a laptop with ITAR-controlled technical data can be checked and stored in the hold as long as the laptop is protected with a password.
So, the only real issue prohibition under the ITAR or EAR against checking a laptop is when the laptop is not the personal property of the traveler and it contains software that is controlled under the EAR to the traveler’s destination. If there is ITAR-controlled technical data or EAR-controlled technology, a password on the device is sufficient.
Pardon me for a little skepticism here but it seems to me that this electronics ban has more to do with limiting foreign carrier competition in the United States than it does security. To begin with, it covers devices such as Kindles and cameras that are not much different from the size of a cellphone and which certainly do not seem to be more efficient threat vectors. More significantly, a person bent on terror using one of these devices merely needs to change his flight plan to include a stopover (where he won’t be screened again) before continuing to the United States — which is exactly what most travelers will do to avoid being separated from their expensive electronics.
Photo Credit: Mojito by Sami Keinänen [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/4GyGSs [cropped]. Copyright 20xx Sami Keinanen