Customs Agents Stop U.S.-Born JPL Scientist

A story has gained traction in recent days regarding a Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist’s experience with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. The incident occurred Jan. 30, four days after the now-frozen executive order limiting travel into the country.
According to multiple media reports, Sidd Bikkannavar is a U.S.-born citizen who has worked at JPL for a decade. He told CNN he was returning from vacation in Chile, which is not one of the seven countries identified on the controversial travel ban.
But according to CNN, Bikkannavar was asked, upon re-entry, to hand over his work-issued phone and to provide its PIN to give authorities access, a request that conflicted with NASA rules that require its employees to protect work-related information.
Bikkannavar also told the Verge that customs personnel gave him a document listing potential consequences, such as detention and seizure, for failure to offer information that would allow them to copy the contents of the device.
Ultimately, he told CNN, he handed over the phone and the PIN and was sent to wait in a holding area with other detainees until they returned it and released him.
In a Facebook post following the incident, Bikkannavar wrote, “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.”
Spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said JPL had no comment because the incident took place while Bikkannavar was on a personal vacation.
In his comments to CNN, Bikkannavar said: “I’m always happy to follow any of the rules. I just need to know what the rules are. This put me in a sort of situation where it wasn’t clear what I should do or if I did the right thing.”

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