Science has no boundaries, except when it comes to US passport border control. NASA cyber security experts are currently investigating a smartphone that was taken from one of their scientists at an US airport by US border control.
The US-born scientist by the name of Sidd Bikkannavar works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was detained at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, just days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order which banned citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. Bikkannavar was returning home after a trip to Santiago in Chile, where he was racing solar-powered cars.
Despite him being a government employee registered in the Global Entry program, he was taken into a private interview room by the US Customs and Border Patrol and he was handed a document titled “Inspection of Electronic Devices.”
The border control pressured him into giving them his smartphone, which was issued to him by the JPL, as well as his access PIN. But as the smartphone was property of NASA, Bikkannavar was expected to protect the content on the phone.
Bikkannavar acknowledges that his name originates from southern India, and that it is “foreign-sounding name” and he finds it to be a “huge coincidence” that this whole situation happened just a few days after President Trump’s travel ban.
When he asked the border security on why he was chosen, they refused to tell him.
They took his phone but Bikkannavar repedeately told them that he wasn’t allowed to give them the passcode although they insisted they had the authority to search it.
After being put under a lot of pressure, he handed them the phone and the PIN, and they took the phone to a room, and 40 minutes later they gave it back to him.
The laboratory of Jet Propulsion of NASA is still running forensics on the phone to determine whether or not something had been installed. Bikkannavar deleted his Facebook page as well in order to make sure it wasn’t compromised in any way.
Whatever the situation may be, Bikkannavar has stated publicly that his work policy was hugely violated, and that this is a matter of great concern.