Andreas Gal, an Apple employee, was stopped at an unnamed checkpoint in San Francisco International Airport back in December after returning from a business trip to Europe. He was questioned about his work and advocacy for online privacy and was asked to unlock his corporate laptop and cell phone, both property of Apple covered by a nondisclosure agreement made with his employer.
When that happened Gal immediately asked to talk to Apple or an attorney but Customs and Border Protection officers denied his request and threatened him with prosecution saying he was “committing a federal crime”. He was then allowed to pass but his Global Entry card was confiscated and was told he will be removed from the expedited screening program. It is not known if CBP officials followed the line of questioning before or after they learned that Gal was an Apple employee.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California has filed a civil complaint on Tuesday with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on behalf of the Apple employee asking for an investigation into whether the CBP’s interrogation and search violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights, as well as a review of CBP’s policies. William Freeman, ACLU of Northern California senior counsel stated:
“CBP’s baseless detention and intrusive interrogation of Andreas Gal and the attempted search of his devices violates his Fourth Amendment rights. Furthermore, CBP’s policies lack protections for First Amendment rights by allowing interrogation and device searches that may be based on a traveler’s political beliefs, activism, nation of origin, or identity.”
Andreas Gal was hired by Apple through the acquisition of Silk Labs, a startup he initiated that focused on the development of on-device artificial intelligence technology. He said he reached out to ACLU after the incident because he was unsure of his rights and wanted to learn what was legal. He stated:
“When I was denied the right to an attorney, I was wondering, ‘Do they have the right to do this? To accuse me of a crime and deny me of an attorney? I’ve left the US probably a hundred times for work. I have no idea what caused me to be pulled over. I have traveled all my life and have never been asked more than ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Where are you coming from?’”
The Department of Homeland Security that oversees CBP declined to comment on pending litigation but their spokesperson did say they “cannot comment on the reasons for individual searches at the border.” However, they did note that all travelers arriving to the US, both citizens and visitors, are subject to CBP inspection, which can include inspection of electronic devices.