Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
A laptop ban would be a disruptive privacy risk (backchannel.com)
84 points by steven on June 1, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 74 comments

I made this comment elsewhere[0], but I'll repeat it here:

I recently took a flight from Belgrade via Istanbul to Birmingham (UK). Hand luggage only, no checked luggage.

At Istanbul they took my laptop from me, gave me a receipt, packed it in bubble-wrap, put that in a suitcase with lots of other bubble-wrapped laptops, and put it in the hold.

Yes, I got it back in the baggage reclaim area, but it was cold - seriously cold - I didn't dare turn it on for several hours to let the disk warm up slowly.

This is making international travel a complete crap-shoot.

Take precautions people. Backup your data, don't travel with your valuable laptop.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14436259

Is there legit in harm in starting a very cold computer? I've actually never heard that before and it would be a good thing to keep in mind if so.

Cold things tend to condensate water vapours when brought in warm rooms.

but by that point, the moment it's in the airport again, it's toast

The problem is getting airflow through the system. If there's no turnover of the air then the problem is minute.

If you turn it on then warm, moist air is drawn into the cold chassis, and that's when the problems happen. If you don't turn it on then the air that was always in it it still there, and the problem is minimised.

So if it's extremely cold, don't turn it on.

Depends I guess, most components are specced to around or just under zero, some military spec stuff is down to -40C, I don't think your laptop would like -200C.

I think the concern for me of having a cold machine taken of a plane into UK weather right now (24C and humid as hell) is the condensation that would build up if I started sucking damp warm humid air into a stone cold machine.

Things shrink when cold, oil thickens, bearings don't like to not be lubricated. So I'd worry about fans and spinning disk drives mostly. Certainly no harm in letting a laptop get close to room temp before starting.

Batteries are a lot less efficient. I don't know whether discharging/using them in that state has a persisting negative effect, these days

Thermally induced contraction and expansion can become an issue, particularly with marginal cases.

I wonder about the tolerance some discrete components may exhibit, e.g capacitors. For that matter, how much does that resistor vary over larger temperature spreads?

Anyway, I let my equipment warm up (or, when very warm, cool down, e.g. sitting in the trunk of the car in summer).

It's not only a privacy risk, it's a fire risk, if li-ion batteries are put in the hold.

Sadly, if they do roll out a hand-luggage ban on electronics, I can see it becoming a complete ban due to existing regulations (e.g. EU) that prohibit the checking of li-ion batteries due to the fire risk.

I now feel like something of a tit for pointing out that security theatre is ridiculous while one is allowed to carry li-ion/lipo batteries on one's person, as you could just fold your iPhone in half using a tray table as a lever, and then use the ensuing white hot long lasting flame for whatever nefarious purpose, as they now appear to be closing this window.

If one is outright banned from transporting electronics it will be chaos - will I need to buy a new phone in every location I fly to? What about business travellers - are we going to see a resurgence in portable manual typewriters, and flights sounding like a hailstorm?

I am so sick of this idiocy.

I'm sure some people will still fly, but all the airlines would go out of business, so it won't matter. Perhaps we can go back to sailing caravelles across the ocean.

Until matter teleporters become a reality, along with the associated existential questions of whether you die at the moment of teleportation and all that.

Even if we get over the existential issue, the security risks there would be pretty big too. What if a hacker just makes the thousands of people mid-teleport disappear? Is it predefined point to point, or can you teleport anywhere? If so, can we prevent people from teleporting anything into anywhere?

> can we prevent people from teleporting anything into anywhere?

Well, there's a game called FTL (very good Roguelike with real-time ship-to-ship combat) [0] that has teleporting bombs as a distinct class of weapons... So of course, it's not hard to imagine that matter teleporters could and eventually will be used to great offensive and invasive effects, depending what the laws of physics allow.

[0] http://subsetgames.com/ftl.html

Arthur C Clarke wrote a funny little short story called "Travel by Wire!" 80 years ago that speculated about a form of commercial teleportation

Solution: batteries should be removable from the laptop. And there should be battery-exchange points at airports where people can leave their batteries in exchange for a token which they can use to get another battery at the destination airport.

Thus everyone will travel with their most worn-out battery in the hope of getting a better one.

If you follow through the implications of this, it's horribly dystopian. Every country in the world needs to be on board. No innovation in form factor is possible (you'd need to persuade every country to carry your battery). No diversity either (the system becomes unworkable with more than a few types of battery).

But why stop there? We should all just use identical, world-government-approved standard laptops and copy the data around, Chromebook-style. Neatly solves the pesky "people carrying their own data" problem too, by forcing it onto the network where it can be safely monitored and policed.


Hardly a solution. People are expecting to be able to use their electronic devices while in-flight. Removing the battery would remove that capability.

Solution: on-flight power outlets.

Or bring a book.

The terrorists might be doing us a favor if we get a standard removable battery for all laptops out of this.

> I am so sick of this idiocy.

The first step to fixing it is to stop electing racist cowards. I'm not holding my breath.

In fairness, I waited in vain for 8 years to see any significant portion of the Patriot Act rolled back.

The pendulum will inevitably swing again, as it does every 8 years or so. The Democrats will retake the White House after a term or two, and we will inevitably see another period of time in which they control both the executive and legislative branches simultaneously.

Even so, I would be stunned to see this future Democratic government roll back things like this that are happening now. Barring the occasional revolution or national collapse every century or two, consolidation of power and control only flows in one direction. The idea of this being partisan is illusory.

> What about business travellers - are we going to see a resurgence in portable manual typewriters, and flights sounding like a hailstorm?

Actually not a bad idea. You could type up a bunch of memos or reports and then scan them and use text-recognition software when you get to your destination to convert to digital.

If the battery is the issue, disallow bringing the batteries.

Make them replaceable, and you only need to buy new batteries at the destination.

Create a standard around batteries (like palettes) and you may only need to borrow them.

This standard doesn't yet exist. This makes the ban (as a sudden thing) a non-starter. It also creates a massive burden on the economy to start acquiring such laptops. OTOH, it'd be a major boon to device manufacturers. Perhaps this is economic stimulus masquerading as security theater.

Another security risk that the article doesn't really get explicit about is tampering of your laptop to install [hardware] keyloggers and such. Just because it's in bubble wrap or whatever doesn't mean the authorities can't pick it out and do what they want with it.

As far as mitigation of all this paranoia and destruction of reasonable social & business order, I hope group charter flights become more widespread & affordable, avoiding all the bulk passenger plane nonsense.

What is a group charter flight? It sounds like a euphemism for passenger plane.

Scheduled services and Charter services operate under entirely different regulations (in the US, anyway). Part 135 carriers don't have to force all the nonsense on their passengers that Part 121 carriers do.

I prefer part 91 but there's some serious overhead there. Also, intercontinental travel is kinda hard.

It's a risk of delivery too. The recent outages at Airlines (Delta/United etc) left travelers without their bags for days.

If I'm a business consulting company, airlines are no longer reliable enough to ship my employees.

> If I'm a business consulting company, airlines are no longer reliable enough to ship my employees.

Is that really true? What percentage of flights do you think actually reach this level of outage? I'm not saying it can't reach that level and I don't know the tolerance of your business, but it seems like we're still talking in very small percentages here.

So of the 8 return flights I've taken in the last 3 years, two have had some form of luggage delay. One for 3 days, going from Dublin to Baltimore via British airways, and one for 1 day, arriving back in Ireland via American.

So in my experience, that's a 12.5% rate for major delays, and a 25% rate for any delays.

Yet in the dozens that I've taken in the last year, I've had exactly zero. I don't think either statistic reflects reality.

I wasn't referring to the outage as much as the likelihood of outages and luggage mishaps along with the need my employee has for their laptop.

This is even worse if travelling from countries like Argentina. Here everybody knows they people who handle checked luggage will steal anything of values. It's even considered risky to leave nice-looking shoes in there. Last time my dad travelled they took his shoes and a pack of chocolates from it.

I'm sure other not-so-developed countries have it quite similar (eg: several in Latinamerica and probably Africa).

Checking in a laptop? Anybody would laugh in your face for suggesting it. Not sure how we're gonna start handling travelling to the US.

Does someone have a nice guide to do full disk encryption, and other recommendations so that we can at least be a little certain our data isn't being tampered with?


That's if you trust TCG and OPAL, and have an OPAL drive. Windows will use OPAL automatically if available for at least Pro and Enterprise and Server products, I'm not sure about Home. Apple and Linux have software implementations (typically with AES hardware support by the CPU).

Edit: Looks like it's been forked. https://github.com/sedutil/sedutil

The TCG and OPAL folks should have commissioned this work for a UEFI application, and open sourced it.

Might make more sense to buy a cheap laptop for travel and keep it separate from your work and personal life as much as you can.

At least that way you can't be accused of hiding anything if you literally have nothing to hide - at least at the airport.

If you live in linux-land and assuming bandwidth is not an issue, then it's trivial to move to a VDI solution. See Apache Guacamole for an excellent example of web-enabling remote desktop access.

Fly to Vancouver, bus/uber to Seattle, fly to US destination?

Probably the best solution is those using usb drives and portable software for data

Depends. Do you still trust them with your laptop and that nothing bad will happen when you plug your data back in? Or do you just travel with your data and rely on using a machine at the other end? In that case, with USB 3 and especially Type C getting more and more traction, is it really absurd to just boot from an external disk/flash stick everywhere so you don't have to rely on the other end's OS? The major problem with that though is MS and Apple aren't especially friendly to the hardware changing underneath them. So the alternative then if you have to use them is probably having your OS in the cloud, and hope your wallet is full and your network good.

Yes I would suggest the OS be on it as well

Microsoft Surface - does it count as a tablet or a laptop to the TSA?

I will be travelling a lot between the US and Canada, so need to decide between Surface or Macbook.

It may depend on the airport. When I flew last Christmas, the Austin airport had a sign exempting the Surface Pro from being put in a separate bin (you could leave it in your backpack), which implies they thought it was less risky.

The reports I've seen distinguish between phones and everything else. If this ban goes into effect, expect to see phablet sales skyrocket!

Methinks there's a opportunity for a booming phone and laptop rental business at airports...

what's my market play for the upcoming decline in business travel & sales pop in productivity phablet hardware & software?

Continuum, I guess. Or Ubuntu Phone... wait.

AirBnB for laptops.

It should only be a battery ban.

And airlines won't profile and interview as does EL AL because why?

Because profiling is profoundly counterproductive. The vast majority of passengers are not interested in murder or mayhem, and will report suspicious behavior. If you antagonize one class of people, you reduce their willingness, as a group, to cooperate with authorities.

Also, because terrorists are rare and are not exclusively members of any one profile, you are more likely to miss one if you shift focus onto one group in particular.


"If you antagonize one class of people, you reduce their willingness, as a group, to cooperate with authorities."

The question is whether this effect is stronger or weaker than the gains you get from profiling.

The middle solution: Anti-profiling. It's not about going after certain groups, it's about ignoring certain groups that are harmless.

We don't need to focus on: -70-year-old British grandmas -4-year-old children -Chinese women -etc.

Obviously this doesn't preclude someone slipping something into their bag without their knowledge, so bags would still have to be checked.

But at the end of the day, there's a lot of simple things you could do to make the whole process faster and easier for everyone, including 23-year-old Arab men with congenital overactive sweat glands.

> The middle solution: Anti-profiling. It's not about going after certain groups, it's about ignoring certain groups that are harmless.

That is still profiling.

Given four groups, A,B,C,D with a property of dangerous/not dangerous.

If I say only A,B and D are dangerous then I'm saying C is not dangerous.

If I say only C isn't dangerous then I'm saying A,B and D are dangerous.

if you anti-profile everyone but black people, what does that end up meaning? that's essentially a wiley political word.

These guys did a pretty good job explaining why not: https://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/classes/6.805/student-paper...

It's the profiling part that's the problem- you can determine through trial and error if you are likely to be interviewed, and adjust your resources accordingly. As noted in the paper, the 9/11 hijackers appeared to do exactly that.

Completely random interviews can't be gamed the same way.

Because profiling is rightly illegal in most civilised corners of the world.

Not all profiling is based on race/religion. If my country X is currently at war with country Y, it seems like it'd be reasonable to give a second look towards anyone who has traveled to Y and potentially its allies. And vice-versa I would expect Y authorities to profile against X. My understanding is that this type of profiling is currently done in Israel and they claim it to be very effective. I don't know if that's true, but at the very least it seems "civilized."

Most civilised countries are not at war with anyone, though, so how would that help?

Russia recently annexed Crimea. Is it reasonable for Ukraine to take a second look at Russians traveling to and from their country? Is Ukraine uncivilized? Is Russia?

Apparently you don't know the definition of "most".

Maybe I was more focused on the, "so how would it help?" part.

the entire nato is at war with whereever the USA is dropping bombs this week.

calling a country "civilised" is difficult because youre implicitly calling other countries uncivilised.

How common is this, and how can we expect it to evolve ?

This is the first time I hear of a laptop ban on internationnal flights. Any informative links would be appreciated.

Why is everyone so dismissive of the bomb threat? I can guarantee everyone involved (airlines, TSA, etc) would just as soon you keep your laptop rather than having to deal with the hassle of scanning, wrapping, loading, and delivering them.

If terrorists decided to put bombs in laptops, it's not clear (to me at least) how putting them in the hold would make anyone safer. I mean, maybe someone in the cabin could put it right up against the side of the plane and make it more likely to blow a hole in it, as a Somalian bomber did in 2016. But it's not obvious to me that something like that wouldn't be noticed by the other passengers and stopped before any serious damage was done (like with the underwear bomber).

At any rate, the burden of proof rests on the administration to show that the threat is real, not imagined, and that the proposed restrictions are narrowly tailored to prevent the threat. None of this has happened yet.

Luggage is chemically scanned for explosives, carry-ons are not.

How is that accomplished? I know sometimes when I go through the security line they take a white, circular pad, wipe my laptop, bag, etc. and put the pad in a sensor.

Do they do this with every piece of luggage going into the hold?

Probably more like a statistically relevant sample, but I believe so.

My carry on is randomly swiped for chemical residue.

Leave X-ray, asked for chemical residue test, proceed to counter, open bag let them swipe the cloth in my clothes a little, and then the inside of my bag a little as well, test passes and I zip my carry on back up and I'm on my way to the gate. This is pretty routine when flying in Australia. I'm pretty sure we stared doing this for catching drugs and regular non terrorist illegal stuff in the 90s or even earlier, and just decided it was a sensible idea to buy stuff that can also detect explosives as well.

Wouldn't it be less disruptive to perform a chemical scan on the laptops then rather than banning them from carry-ons entirely?

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact