Customs Officers At SFO Allegedly Demanded Passwords For Privacy Advocate's Phone, Laptop

April 03, 2019 - 2:09 pm

A prominent computer scientist who works for Apple and advocates for online privacy was allegedly mistreated by Customs and Border Protection officers at San Francisco International Airport, according to a new complaint filed by the ACLU. 

The customs officers allegedly demanded passwords for the laptop and cellphone of Andreas Gal, 42, of San Carlos, a Hungarian-born naturalized U.S. citizen when he arrived in SFO on Nov. 29 from Sweden. The officers did not have a court warrant and appeared to know that Gal, the ex-chief technology officer of Mozilla, was vocal about protecting privacy, the American Civil Liberties Union said. 

According to the complaint, the agents threatened Gal with prosecution when he asked to contact his employer or attorney before turning over the devices that contained confidential Apple information. 

Eventually, the officers allowed him to leave without seeing the contents of his phone or laptop, but they took away his Global Entry card and said it would be revoked, according to the complaint. 

Global Entry is the Department of Homeland Security program that speeds up security checks at airports for low-risk travelers. 

The complaint letter asks for an investigation into whether Gal's rights were violated. The ACLU sent it to five different offices within the Department of Homeland Security, including the agency's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, its inspector general and its Customs and Border Protection field office in San Francisco.

A Homeland Security spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.