Wilfredo A. Ruiz, a spokesperson for CAIR-Florida and Muslim convert, says citizens are required to surrender their mobile phones and laptops whenever a border agent asks for them, but not their passwords or personal social media information.
Sidd Bikkannavar, 35, was held with others who were stranded under the Muslim ban.
Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection reportedly detained Sidd Bikkannavar and informed them they had the authority to search his phone.
"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 explained in the post, adding that he has also been working with JPL legal counsel and the lab has issued him a new phone and new phone number.
The JPL scientist returned to the USA four days after the signing of a sweeping and controversial executive order on travel into the country.
A US-born NASA scientist says he was detained by border police, until he agreed to unlock his phone and let the agents copy the phone's contents. "I didn't really want to explore all those consequences", he says.
"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 risky", Bikkannavar told The Verge.
This light-skinned man with long brown locks had already been enrolled in the Global Entry - a CBP program that allows individuals who have undergone background checks to have expedited entry into the US.
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Bikkannavar spent a few weeks away pursuing his hobby of racing solar-powered cars. The CBP agents would not release Bikkannavar until he unlocked his phone.
After his phone was returned, Bikkannavar turned it off until he could give it to the JPL IT department.
Either way, Bikkanavar is not a citizen of any of the countries affected by Trump's travel ban.
He had not visited any of the countries mentioned in Donald Trump's Muslim travel ban, but Bikkannavar told the Verge that agents may have become suspicious about his family name, which is southern Indian. "I initially refused, since it's a (NASA)-issued phone and I must protect access", Bikkannavar wrote.
"Just to be clear - I'm a US-born citizen and NASA engineer, travelling with a valid United States passport". He has also deleted his Facebook page until he can ensure it "wasn't also comprised". Bikkannavar said he has no knowledge of what happened to the phone during those 30 minutes. Then he was handed a document titled, "Inspection of Electronic Devices" and told that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol was legally allowed to search his phone.
Bikkannavar has been stopped and searched before, but he has never been asked for his phone. "They're not obligated to unlock the phone", she says.
Bikkannavar mused that it might be his foreign-sounding name that set off alarm bells, or maybe it was just a very poorly timed coincidence that it occurred three days after the Trump travel ban was enacted.