Privacy and the new Immigration Order

Your cellphone or computer can be the most valuable objects in your possesion. We use them every day for work, socializing, making dinner plans or even to look up the address of a destination. Because of their importance in our daily lives and our value of privacy, we like to keep them protected; usually with a password. But what if you were forced to give up your password for entry into the United States?

This is exactly what happened to US citizen Sid Bikkannavar in late January. An executive order put in place by the Trump administration earlier this year has increased security on immigration and border protection, so much so that some have started questioning its ethics. Sid Bikkannavar left the country for Chile only a week before the exeutive order was signed for a solor-powered car racing event. When he arrived back from Chile he was detained at the George Bush International Airport in Houston and questioned by US Customs and Border Patrol agents.

The Customs and Border patrol agents demanded that Bikkannavar unlock his cellphone in order for him to be released. However, Bikkannavar works for NASA and his cellphone contained sensitive information that he was not allowed to share. Eventually Bikkannavar gave in and unlocked his cellphone for the agents; he was then released a half hour later.

Situations similar to this have been affecting many people attempting to legally enter the United States in the past few weeks. Security is getting tougher and more and more people are being detained for questioning. But is it ethical or even legal for Customs and Border Patrol agents to demand people to unlock their cellphone or computer? Quincy Larson, another blogger on Medium, responded on the legality of the issue in a blog post, “…unfortunately, the US border isn’t technically the US, and you don’t have either of these rights at the border. It’s totally legal for a US Customs and Border Patrol officer to ask you to unlock your phone and hand it over to them. And they can detain you indefinitely if you don’t. Even if you’re a American citizen.” This answers the question of the legaility of the issue, but is it ethical?

We all value privacy and do many things to protect it, and for some even the government is not an exception. The ethics of the issue involving Bikkannavar is debatable, but maybe the question should rather be how we can protect our privacy. One of the biggest things you can do to protect your privacy is to leave your cellphone and computer at home when you travel internationally. There are different ways to communicate with family and be on the internet, including requsting an international phone from your cellphone provider.

No one wants to be involved in the same situation as Bikkannavar, which is why we can take the neccassary steps to protecting our privacy.