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Author Topic: Customs forces NASA scientist to unlock his phone  (Read 1305 times)

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Offline Psk

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Customs forces NASA scientist to unlock his phone
« on: February 15, 2017, 07:52:54 PM »
Sidd Bikkannavar flew back into the United States after spending a few weeks abroad in South America. An employee of NASA, Bikkannavar had been on a personal trip, pursuing his hobby of racing solar-powered cars.

Bikkannavar says he was detained by US Customs and Border Patrol and pressured to give the CBP agents his phone and access PIN. Since the phone was issued by NASA, it may have contained sensitive material that wasn?t supposed to be shared. Bikkannavar?s phone was returned to him after it was searched by CBP.

Bikkannavar?s entry into the USA should not have raised any flags. He a natural-born US citizen, & he?s also enrolled in Global Entry, a program through CBP that allows individuals who have undergone background checks to have expedited entry into the country. He hasn?t visited the countries listed in the immigration ban and he has worked at NASA for 10 years. There, he works on ?wavefront sensing and control,? a type of optics technology that will be used on the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

A CBP officer escorted Bikkannavar to a back room, and told him to wait for additional instructions. About 40 minutes went by before an officer appeared and called Bikkannavar?s name. ?He takes me into an interview room and sort of explains that I?m entering the country and they need to search my possessions to make sure I?m not bringing in anything dangerous,? he says. The CBP officer started asking questions about where Bikkannavar was coming from, where he lives, and his title at work. It?s all information the officer should have had since Bikkannavar is enrolled in Global Entry. ?I asked a question, ?Why was I chosen?? And he wouldn?t tell me,? he says.

The officer explained that CBP had authority to search his phone. Bikkannavar did not want to hand over the device, because it was given to him by JPL and is technically NASA property. He even showed the officer the JPL barcode on the back of phone. Nonetheless, CBP asked for the phone and the access PIN. ?I was cautiously telling him I wasn?t allowed to give it out" says Bikkannavar. ?I told him I?m not really allowed to give the pass code... I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it.?

Courts have upheld customs agent's power to manually search devices at the border. More importantly, travelers are not legally required to unlock their devices, although agents can detain them for significant periods of time if they do not. ?In each incident that I?ve seen, the subjects have been shown a Blue Paper that says CBP has legal authority to search phones at the border, which gives them the impression that they?re obligated to unlock the phone, which isn?t true,? Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of CAIR Florida, said. ?They?re not obligated to unlock the phone.?

Bikkannavar was not allowed to leave until he gave CBP his PIN. The officer insisted that CBP had the authority to search the phone. The document given to Bikkannavar listed a series of consequences for failure to offer information that would allow CBP to copy the contents of the device. ?I didn?t really want to explore all those consequences,? he says. ?It mentioned detention and seizure.? Ultimately, he agreed to hand over the phone and PIN. The officer left with the device and didn?t return for another 30 minutes.

Once he arrived in Los Angeles, he went to NASA and told his superiors what had happened. He says the cybersecurity team at JPL was not happy about the breach. NASA employees are obligated to protect work-related information.

He?s left wondering the point of the search, and he?s upset that the search potentially compromised the privacy of his friends, family, and coworkers who were listed on his phone. He has since gotten a completely new device from work with a new phone number.

He said, ?It was not that they were concerned with me bringing something dangerous in, because they didn?t even touch the bags. They had no way of knowing I could have had something in there,? he says. ?You can say, ?Okay well maybe it?s about making sure I?m not a dangerous person,? but they have all the information to verify that.?


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