Chris Barnett on Business Travel
A Laptop Ban Will Bring Complex Calculations
May 18, 2017 -- The looming threat of laptop computers and other electronic devices banned from passenger cabins is being met with shock and disbelief by American business travelers.

Far more than an inconvenience, veteran road warriors I've contacted this week worry about the safety and security of their devices and data if Homeland Security forces them to stow digital gear in the belly of aircraft.

"I respect that the government wants to protect Americans, but this is very poorly thought out," says George Olmstead, partner in Olmstead Linch & Kreutz, an Atlanta executive-search firm. "Laptops on a tray table don't seem any more dangerous than a finely sharpened pencil in the hand of a committed terrorist."

"I'm more concerned with a committed, thieving baggage handler getting their hands on the results of my labor, regardless of whether it's backed up," Olmstead adds. "Plus, I work on long trips. I'm always disappointed by the number of other guys who are playing computer solitaire during flights."

Houston Management consultant Karen Jones says she "understands to some degree the need to protect travelers." But she is skeptical about the impending electronics ban. "The government has not disclosed exactly what they are protecting against. I would like to believe there is a less intrusive way of protection."

Jones, who is flying next week on British Airways to meetings and conferences in London, Dublin, Brussels and Amsterdam, claims her "mobile office" goes with her wherever she goes. It would be disastrous to lose it. Getting online in different hotels, conference centers and other venues is enough of a worry to her, she says.

"I'm always working--on client projects, writing and editing pieces for professional journals--and when I'm flying for a significant amount of time like seven, eight or nine hours, I can get a lot done and make money at the same time," she claims.

The suggested solutions to protecting a planeload of passengers from an in-flight terrorist attack are hard to swallow, Jones points out.

"I feel uncomfortable putting my laptop in checked baggage. If you have a removable hard drive, that could be reasonable. But buying and working on a 'burner' laptop? That's too much. I don't like it."

Ben Davis, chief executive of Phizzle, a San Francisco-based enterprise software firm focused on the "big data" sector, insists the impending ban is "completely insane."

"I never, ever check my luggage no matter how long I am gone. It slows me down and I've had items stolen from my bag," he explains. "Plus, I'm already suspicious of keeping proprietary and sensitive documents in the cloud as a backup. I keep it local."

Davis says he logs 300,000 miles a year in the air and isn't about to place his Mac in some box in the aircraft cargo hold.

There is "a lot of proprietary information and software on that computer--including patent pending approval material," he says. "It would be very damaging to me and my company if it got in the wrong hands."

A less drastic approach--such as turning on a laptop at security checkpoints--would slow things down, Davis admits, but at least it doesn't separate the traveler from his or her machine. "I think Homeland Security would be able to recognize when a laptop has been altered," he believes.

Not every corporate boss is worried, though. Some think necessity is the mother of creativity.

"This is an opportunity in this day and age of cloud computing," says Nina Simosko, the chief executive of NTT i3, a technology platform developer in the Silicon Valley. "This should challenge enterprises to figure out a different way for employees to access data. If all your information is in the cloud, you can access it from any device."

As for the potential threat of losing or damaging a checked laptop, Simosko says "with most businesspeople, the laptop is a corporate asset that's fully insured and replaceable." That does assume "the intelligence on it is backed up and in the cloud."

Small comfort, however, if you own the computer and have personal information on it as well, says Tom Bain, vice president of global marketing for CounterTack, a data-driven electronic device security firm headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts.

"You have to ask yourself first, 'What would I do if I lost everything?' Assess the risks from there," he explains. "You run three personal risks by letting the device out of your sight by putting it in your checked luggage."

The first two are obvious--the computer is damaged or the bag is lost. The third and "worst case scenario," says Bain, is chilling: "Losing your business, competitive and personal data to a thief who's in a foreign country and you're on your way home" and out of touch.

The thief has a head start on you, he warns.

"You've got to hope you have some remote disablement capacity on that device because you don't know if [the thief] is selling it on the black market or personally using it. Lose your device and you have to change credit card numbers, passwords, etc. Plus, you have to find and replicate everything.

"You almost have to reboot your life," Bain says.

This column is Copyright 2017 by Chris Barnett. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Chris Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.