Border Agents Force NASA Scientist To Unlock Phone Before Entering US

A U.S.-born NASA scientist suffered the consequences of Trump’s travel ban when he was detained at a Houston airport and asked to hand over his phone.

President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which has now been suspended, has impacted the lives of thousands.

Of the many people who were held at various airports in the U.S., was an American-born NASA scientist, Sidd Bikkannavar.

On Jan 30, Bikkannavar who was returning from Santiago, Chile, was pulled aside by Customs and Border Protection officers at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, and asked to turn in his phone along with its PIN code.

“I was cautiously telling him I wasn’t allowed to give it out, because I didn’t want to seem like I was not cooperating. I told him I’m not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it,” Bikkannavar revealed in an interview with The Verge.

The scientist was not expecting this since he is part of Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for "pre-approved, low-risk travelers."


Bikkannavar, who is an employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, surrendered his cellular device and password, after which he was sent to a holding area where other detainees were present. His phone was later returned and he was allowed to continue his journey home.

The scientist has now been issued a new phone by JPL, since the organization is unsure of whether border officials took any data from his device or installed anything in his phone that may hamper the privacy of information.

Why Bikkannavar was held at the airport and asked to turn in his phone remains an unanswered question as of yet. He had not visited any of the seven countries on Trump’s travel ban, and neither did he indulge in any suspicious activities. 

Banner/thumbnail credit: Reuters

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