Traveling? How To Keep Homeland Security Away From Your (Real) Cell Phone – Forbes
Imagine youâre about to get on a flight to New Orleans to see your sweetie. Youâre in line dreaming of jazz, beignets and jambalaya when youâre pulled aside by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent. He wants your cell phone â no, not just your cell phone, your password! He wants you to unlock your cell phone so he can rummage around in it. He spies your Tinder dating app and gets interested, andâ¦wait, this canât be happening. He orders you into a closed room. He tells you that you canât get on the flight because, well, it appears that you work in an escort service. You are dumbfounded. Did you die and wake up in the cast of Saturday Night Live?
It may seem like an SNL satire, but this just happened –with a few twists â to a young Canadian who asks to be identified only as âAndréâ for fear of reprisal. He told a Canadian paper that a U.S. Customs agent at the Vancouver airport demanded he unlock his cell phone. âI didnât know what to do,â he told the paper. âI was scared, so I gave him the password.â The agent then ran across Andréâs gay dating apps and misinterpreted several messages. André was questioned for an hour and a half and missed his flight. Deciding that André was a male escort looking for business, the agent told him he couldnât enter the United States.
André returned for another flight a week later with pay stubs, bank account docs and a letter from his employer verifying he worked as a set decorator in Vancouver. But again, he was again barred from the United States â this time because he had cleared his cell phone, which the guards viewed as suspicious. They also demanded he open his computer and grilled him about personal photos they found there. In addition to the âhumiliatingâ interrogation, André said, he lost more than $1,200 on nonrefundable flights and hotels.
And itâs not only tourists who are being frightened and humiliated as their digital lives are spilled out in airport interrogation rooms: Itâs U.S. citizens. An investigation by NBC News found that a number of American citizens are being ordered to unlock their cell phones and computers, especially if they are of Muslim descent. When returning from a trip to Canada, one 23-year-old New York filmmaker was choked by a CBP agent while another grabbed his phone after he protested having to hand over his cell phone for the second time. A naturalized U.S. citizen born in Egypt was handcuffed and held for four hours before he agreed to hand over his cell phone.
Even a young NASA scientist returning from a vacation in Chile this January found his return to the United States far from relaxing. Of East Indian descent and born and raised in California, Sidd Bikkannavar was ushered into a closed room at the Houston airport and â although the border agents were friendly — given a paper that mentioned âdetentionâ unless he turned over his NASA-issued cell phone and password. NASA expects employees to prevent security breaches, so Bikkannavar argued for some time before finally unlocking it. A border agent took his phone away for 30 minutes, and he doesnât know what they did with it.
âOnce they had that, they had everything,â Bikkannavar told reporters. âYour whole digital life is on your phone.â Even deleted messages are at risk: The Department of Homeland Security has reported that it can make a mirror-image copy of any cell phone and pull up deleted files and photos.
âNo traveler is safeâ