A 30-year-old Canadian man called André (he did not want to disclose his last name) was banned from flying to the USA last October after a US Customs and Border Patrol officer at Vancouver International Airport suspected him to be a sex worker.
When André was selected for secondary inspection before his flight to New Orleans (a trip to visit his boyfriend) the officer took his phone and other electronic devices.
After being given the relevant passwords, the officer found messages on André’s Scruff and BareBackRT accounts, which said that he was “looking for loads”.
The officer assumed this meant that he was asking for money in exchange for sex, and even when André tried to explain what the phrase actually meant, the officer continued to interrogate him.
André said: “I didn’t know what to do. I was scared, so I gave them the password and then I sat there for at least an hour or two. I missed my flight.
“He came back and just started grilling me. “Is this your email?” and it was an email attached to a Craigslist account for sex ads.
“I could tell just by the officer’s nature that he had no intentions of letting me through.
“They were just going to keep asking me questions looking for something.”
André eventually agreed to return to Canada in order to avoid being banned from the USA, however one month later, he tried to visit New Orleans again and was met with a similar experience.
Despite arriving at the airport with bank statements, proof of his job and income and his phone contract, André was again asked to go through a secondary inspection.
He had also deleted all hookup apps from his phone and cleared his browser history, which made the officers even more suspicious.
Again officers took his devices, but this time André wasn’t asked to provide any passwords, as they had already been logged into the system.
Officers questioned him over explicit images of himself that they found on his phone and André was again denied entry to the USA.
Esha Bhandari, staff attorney for the speech privacy and technology project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “Our mobile devices contain every detail of our lives. Financial information, health information, personal relationship information.
“If you’re a doctor or a lawyer, you might have attorney-client or doctor-patient privileged material on there.
“Some people that travel for business have very sensitive business information, trade secret information.
“I’m hopeful that CBP (Customs and Border Protection) will put in place policies that limit what they’re searching and that they’re only conducting searches when they’re absolutely necessary for purposes of immigration and custom, rather than doing an end run around constitutional limits on search authority and looking through people’s entire private lives.
“Thus far, CBP has asserted a very broad authority to search visitors to the United States. There aren’t a lot of cases testing the limits of that, especially in this new digital context.”
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