Born Muslim scientist detained by US Customs and Border Petrol

Geneva Matthews
February 16, 2017

"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 said.

Sidd Bikkannavar, 35, was held with others who were stranded under the Muslim ban.

A week removed from a story about a Canadian Muslim denied entry after border patrol launched into a religious line of questioning, we hear about a US-born JPL employee who was detained by officials until he gave up access to his NASA-provided phone.

Bikkannavar's form listed detention and seizure among the consequences for not cooperating and he chose to turn over his phone and PIN. He returned after Trump took office and issued the executive order on travel into the United States. Bikkannavar is now working with JPL legal counsel.

Bikkannavar said he was pressured to give the CBP agents his phone and access PIN.

"I asked a question, 'Why was I chosen?' And he wouldn't tell me", Bikkannavar told The Verge.

"He (officer) 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 anything unsafe", Bikkannavar told The Verge.

The detainment left Bikkannavar wondering why he was singled out, since he is a USA citizen, a government employee, and is registered in the Global Entry program.

Bikkannavar spent a few weeks away pursuing his hobby of racing solar-powered cars. 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.

Bikkannavar is a seasoned global traveller - but his return home to the U.S. this time around was anything but routine.

The NASA engineer posted on social media site Facebook about how officers from the US Customs and Border Protection had ordered him to provide them with his cell phone and password before they allowed him to enter the George Bush International Airport.

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. "Just to be clear - I'm a US-born citizen and NASA engineer, travelling with a U.S. passport". He had not visited any of the seven countries on Trump's travel ban, and neither did he indulge in any suspicious activities. He has also deleted his Facebook page until he can ensure it "wasn't also comprised". "They had no way of knowing I could have had something in there", he says.

"If they don't want to give us that information then they don't come", homeland security secretary John Kelly testified in front of the House Homeland Security Committee on February 7.

The phone was in CBP custody for roughly 30 minutes before being returned to Bikkannavar. JPL issued me a new phone and new phone number, which I'll give out soon. "They're not obligated to unlock the phone". "Maybe you could say it was one huge coincidence that this thing happens right at the travel ban", he added.

Other reports by VideoGamingPros

Discuss This Article

FOLLOW OUR NEWSPAPER