Muslim Ban: Indian-Origin NASA Worker Detained, Phone Data Copied

Sidd Bikkannavar, an employee of NASA was on a holiday after which he was detained at the airport for 4 hours.

2 min read
Hindi Female

Sidd Bikkannavar, an Indian-origin American citizen and an employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was flying back home to America after spending two weeks in South America.

On 30 January, when he flew back to the US, he was met with a rude shock as he was stopped at the e George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. He was questioned for over four hours and had to divulge his phone’s PIN to be let off finally, as The Verge reported.

Bikkannavar had left from the US on 15 January, while Obama was still President and returned on 30 January, a little over a week into the Trump presidency,


In a Facebook post, Bikkannavar said he was “detained by Homeland Security and held with others stranded due to the Muslim ban”.

CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officers seized my phone and wouldn’t release me until I gave my access PIN for them to copy the data.

Though he initially refused, as his phone was the property of his office with confidential information on it, he was forced to give his PIN and was detained till they finished copying his data.

I’m back home, and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) has been running forensics on the phone to determine what CBP/Homeland Security might have taken, or whether they installed anything on the device... I removed my Facebook page until I was sure this account wasn’t also compromised by the intrusion into my phone.

Bikkannavar’s entry should not have raised red flags, as he’s a natural-born American with a US passport. He is also enrolled in Global Entry – a programme through CBP that allows individuals who have undergone background checks to have expedited entry into the country.

He has also not visited any of the countries listed on Trump’s executive order which ban the entry of Muslims. His office where he has been working for 10 years, JPL, is a US federal agency.

I don’t know what to think about this... I was caught a little off guard by the whole thing.

Bikkannavar’s passport was scanned by the CBP when he entered the country and was taken to a room to wait along with 5 other people who seemed to be affected by the ban.

He 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 in anything dangerous.

He asked why he was being questioned but was not provided an answer.

Bikkannavar was also presented with a document titled “Inspection of Electronic Devices” and was explained that the CBP could search his phone. He showed them the phone which had a JPL passcode, making it NASA’s property.

I was cautiously telling him I wasn’t allowed to give it out, because I didn’t want to seem like I was not cooperating. I told him I’m not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it.

Once released, he immediately went to the NASA IT cell to let them know about the breach, who weren’t happy about it.


People React

After the news broke, tweeples were horrified at how travellers were being treated.

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