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article imageNASA scientist born in US has to turn over phone at US border

By Ken Hanly     Feb 13, 2017 in Travel
Sidd Bikkannavar a natural-born American citizen claims he was detained on January 30 at Houston International Airport. This was just days after new president Donald Trump signed an executive order banning citizens from seven countries.
Bikkannavar works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His hobby is driving solar-powered cars and he was just returning from a race in Patagonia Chile. Bikkanavar did not expect to have any trouble going through customs. He not only holds a U.S. passport but he is also part of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows pre-approved low-risk travelers expedited clearance. Instead of providing Bikkanavar expedited clearance they pulled him aside. They demanded that he turn over his work issued phone and access PIN code.
In response for a request to comment on the case, a CBP spokesperson said in an email: "U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) strives to treat all travelers with respect and in a professional manner, while maintaining the focus of our mission to protect all citizens and visitors in the United States. Due to privacy laws, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is prohibited from discussing specific cases or personally identifiable information regarding the arrival or departure of international travelers. CBP officers are charged with enforcing not only immigration and customs laws, but they also enforce over 400 laws for 40 other agencies." Bikkanavar eventually turned his phone over to the CBP agents and was then sent to a holding area. Bikkanavar finally had his phone returned and was allowed to continue his journey back home.
The Jet Propulsion Lab issued him a new phone and are "running forensics" to determine if the CPB had taken any data or installed a device according to a NASA engineer. February 3rd a judge in Seattle suspended the order and an appeals court in San Francisco unanimously upheld the ruling. Between January 27 and February 1st at least 940 people were prevented from boarding a plane.
Other scientists have also run into trouble because of the Trump ban. Samira Samimi a University of Calgary doctoral student, was born in Iran but is a permanent resident of Canada. She was to go to Greenland to repair drained batteries that are used for equipment that is used to project future sea levels. She was to get a ride on a US Air FOrce C-130 Hercules leaving from upstate New York. Samimi said in an interview: “I came so far, from the other side of the planet, to be free, to not fight for my rights anymore. And this is like a nightmare. I don’t understand how in the 21st century one man can stop this science, stop it, just like that, so easily without even thinking. I’m just sick in my stomach. I don’t want to accept that I’m not going. I can’t do that. I just can’t. This is so stupid, this so doesn’t make sense." Alternative options would cost her as much as $100,000 in new funding. With the recent suspension of the order perhaps she will be able to go after all.
The International Council for Science advocates planners of scientific meetings to ensure that participation of scientists is free from discrimination of any kind. The Council issued as statement saying: "The Council believes that the complex problems of our world can only be solved through international dialogue, collaboration and the sharing and exchange of ideas and research findings." Canadian scientists are organizing to boycott conferences in the US as long as the ban is in force as discussed in a recent DJ article.
More about NASA, trump travel ban, effect of Trump travel ban
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