NASA Engineer Sues Customs for Illegal Smartphone Search

Eric Risberg/AP File Photo

A group of 10 people is suing Customs and Border Protection for searches they say violate their First and Fourth Amendment rights.

In February 2017, NASA Engineer Sidd Bikkannavar came back to the United States following a trip to Chile. He was detained by Customs and Border Protection and was commanded to hand over his smartphone and the password to it, without a warrant.

He wasn't the only one who encountered this scenario, however. Now with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Bikkannavar and 10 other people are suing CBP for illegal search of electronic devices. Ten members of the group are U.S. citizens and one is a permanent resident.

The lawsuit states that searches and seizures of smartphones, laptops, and other electronic devices at the U.S. border violate the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Digital border searches have been steadily on the rise. Statistics released by CBP in April revealed the rate of these searches had almost quadrupled since 2015.

Experts have even made recommendations to those traveling abroad about how they should protect themselves from digital strip searches. 

“The government cannot use the border as a dragnet to search through our private data,” said ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari in a statement about the case.