Border Agent Demands NASA Scientist Unlock Phone Before Entering the Country
Border Agent Demands NASA Scientist Unlock Phone Before Entering the Country
16 February, 2017, 01:21
Cybersecurity officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are reportedly "not happy" that a US -born scientist employed at the lab was forced to give Customs and Border Protection agents access to his government-issued phone when returning from a recent trip to Chile. Bikkannavar, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and a natural-born US citizen, landed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston last month only to be detained and ordered to hand over his NASA-secured phone amid President Donald Trump's travel ban, the Verge reported Sunday.
"CBP officers seized my phone and wouldn't release me until I gave them my access PIN for them to copy the data".
In addition to being an American-born citizen, Bikkannavar is also enrolled in the Global Entry program, where citizens agree to a background check to expedite security checks when traveling.
The JPL scientist returned to the U.S. four days after the signing of a sweeping and controversial executive order on travel into the country. "You can say, "Okay well maybe it's about making sure I'm not a risky person", but they have all the information to verify that". "I asked a question, 'Why was I chosen?' And he wouldn't tell me".
Initially Bikkannavar declined as the phone was issued to him by Nasa and contained sensitive information, but he had to give them the phone's access code when they wouldn't let him go. He designs technology for space telescopes like the enormous James Webb telescope that is yet set to be launched into orbit in 2018.
The CBP officials asked to unlock his phone citing "Inspection of Electronic Devices" manual that detailed consequences over failure to comply with the request.
The phone was in CBP custody for roughly 30 minutes before being returned to Bikkannavar. "But he insisted they had the authority to search it".
Bikkannavar has traveled extensively, but he had not visited any of the countries listed in the immigration ban. Bikkannavar is now working with JPL legal counsel.
"I'm back home, and JPL has been running forensics on the phone to determine what CBP/homeland security might have taken, or whether they installed anything on the device", Bikkannavar explained in the post, adding that he has also been working with JPL legal counsel and the lab has issued him a new phone and new phone number.
He was pressured into handing over his smartphone, which was issued to him by JPL, along with his access PIN.
While the CBP does have authority to search devices, you aren't obligated to unlock your device. Bikkannavar can't comment on what may or may not have been on the phone, but he says the cybersecurity team at JPL was not happy about the breach.
The frequent traveler leaves us with something to consider: "It was not that they were concerned with me bringing something unsafe in, because they didn't even touch the bags".
Bikkannavar has been stopped and searched before, but he has never been asked for his phone.
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