Quantcast

NASA Scientist Detained at Border, Forced to Unlock Phone

Popular
Sidd Bikkannavar at one of his solar car racing events. Photo credit: Shane Winter

Sidd Bikkannavar, a U.S.-born citizen and scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) when trying to reenter the country from Chile late last month. Bikkannavar was in Patagonia racing solar-powered cars. He was detained by CPB in Houston without explanation and forced to unlock his NASA-issued phone.

After his passport was scanned, he was taken into a back room where other detained travelers waited on cots. Bikkannavar is a member of Global Entry, a CBP program that “allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers" upon arrival in the U.S.

Bikkannavar asked "Why was I chosen?" But, no response was given, The Verge reported.

Bikkannavar was questioned on basic information already provided by his Global Entry membership and then asked to hand over and unlock his work phone. He was reticent to unlock his phone because it was issued by a federal agency and might contain sensitive information—NASA employees are told to protect work data. He tried to politely explain this when the CBP officer handed him an Inspection of Electronic Devices form.

While manual phone searches are legal, travelers are not required to unlock phones. But, travelers who do not unlock phones may be further detained.

"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," said Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida, according to The Verge.

Bikkannavar's form listed detention and seizure among the consequences for not cooperating and he decided to turn over his phone and PIN. The phone was returned in about 30 minutes. He immediately turned his phone off and took it to the cybersecurity team at JPL upon arriving in Los Angeles.

Bikkannavar left for Chile on Jan. 15 prior to the Trump administration's travel ban, which targeted people from seven predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern and African countries, but returned to the U.S. four days after the ban was signed.

The ban is currently on hold after a federal appeals court upheld U.S. District Judge James Robart's ruling against the executive order. Bikkannavar, whose family name has roots in southern India, has been searched before but not to this extent. "Maybe you could say it was one huge coincidence that this thing happens right at the travel ban," he told The Verge.

Read Bikkannavar's account of the events from one of his friends who shared his tweet:

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

It may seem innocuous to flush a Q-tip down the toilet, but those bits of plastic have been washing up on beaches and pose a threat to the birds, turtles and marine life that call those beaches home. The scourge of plastic "nurdles," as they are called, has pushed Scotland to implement a complete ban on the sale and manufacture of plastic-stemmed cotton swabs, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
Air conditioners, like these in a residential and restaurant area of Singapore city, could put a massive strain on electricity grids during more intense heatwaves. Taro Hama @ e-kamakura / Moment / Getty Images

By Tim Radford

Scientists in the U.S. have added a new dimension to the growing hazard of extreme heat. As global average temperatures rise, so do the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Actress Jane Fonda is arrested on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on Oct. 11. Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Oscar-award winning actress and long-time political activist Jane Fonda was arrested on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Friday for peacefully protesting the U.S. government's inaction in combating the climate crisis, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
sam thomas / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Caroline Hickman

I'm up late at night worrying that my baby brothers may die from global warming and other threats to humanity – please can you put my mind at rest? – Sophie, aged 17, East Sussex, UK

Read More Show Less
Sheriff officials work the scene at Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park in Calimesa on Oct. 13. Jennifer Cappuccio Maher / MediaNews Group / Inland Valley Daily Bulletin / Getty Images

Three people have died in incidents related to two major wildfires in Southern California, The Los Angeles Times Reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Damage in Ichihara, Chiba prefecture, Japan following Typhoon Hagibis. STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP via Getty Images

At least 42 people have died and 15 are missing after Typhoon Hagibis swamped Japan Saturday, bringing record rainfall that flooded more than 1,000 homes, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Marlene Cimons

Scientist Aaswath Raman long has been keen on discovering new sources of clean energy by creating novel materials that can make use of heat and light.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

The aloe vera plant is a succulent that stores water in its leaves in the form of a gel.

Read More Show Less