Aaron Gach, an artist and local college lecturer, has had an encounter with the border agents at the San Francisco International Airport.
According to Arstechnica, Gach said that the border agents were searching him and demanding him to unlock his iPhone or else he would be detained.
“I thought, in the moment, that if I gave in and turned over my phone that maybe they were being honest and wouldn’t take my other belongings.”
Though Gach’s doubts were there, the border agents stuck to their word. Gach said that once he unlocked his iPhone SE, the agents took the phone for about five to 10 minutes and then let him leave.
Gach added that he has been involved in political activism with Greenpeace. He has had encounters with police before, but he was never arrested. He knows about the “border exception” and he has a family to go back to in the United States. Gach is also awaiting a job at the California College of Arts. Gach was unsure if this personal invasion of privacy is, in any way, lawful. The artiss added that the only reason he gave his phone was because he was under “psychological duress coming off 20 hours of travel.”
After the interaction with San Francisco International Airport, Gach posted his experience on Facebook and has caught the attention of the art community. Last Thursday, six lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union filed an “administrative complaint” against the border agents.
This was not the only time Gach has experienced this invasion of privacy. On Feb. 23, he also returned to San Francisco “from an art show in Brussels with a brief layover in London.”
He noticed that there was an unusually long line. The passengers were being held back before release. Gach decided to follow the drill. He was just about to open up his sketch pad to draw the scene when he was called out. Though the staff told him it would not take long, Gach had to be transferred to a series of waiting lines and rooms before he was interviewed. He transcribed the exchange he had with authorities during that time.
“Sorry for the inconvenience. We should have you out of here in just a moment. I hope you won’t mind if we just ask a few questions.”
He was asked some basic questions and even asked to spell out his name. He followed the procedure until he was asked the same request again. The interviewers required him to show and unlock his phone.
“Can we check your phone to verify the info you provided?”
Gach began asking questions to get to the bottom of his phone privacy. He asked if the interviewers would have a problem if he decided to not show them his phone.
“Do I have a choice in the matter? What are my rights in this situation? As a U.S. citizen, don’t I have equal protections under the Constitution regardless of whether or not I am in an airport or outside of one?”
Gach added that the answers were vague. He was only told that this would be important to their investigation and that they would detain his phone and “any personal effects needed to assist in our investigation.” Gach has documented the full transcript here.
According to Artnet, Gach is a white American U.S. citizen. He is not a candidate for racial profiling, but he still experienced an unexpected 90-minute questioning from the Customs and Border Patrol.
Immigration lawyer Pierre Georges Bonnefil was surprised of Gach’s account. He said that the number of questions were simply too much and the line of questioning is already “invasive.”
Gach’s case is being investigated, and the CBP has no response yet.
“When the CBP takes that oath of office and tells you that you don’t have the Fourth Amendment at San Francisco Airport — that raises huge questions for me,” he said.
“The Fourth Amendment is one sentence! And it’s pretty clear. It also says something about the places to be searched and the things to be seized. What’s the specific area that’s being searched? In the case of the CBP there’s none of that. I read the Fourth Amendment, and I don’t find the justification to have that authoritarian overreach.”
[Feature Image by Halfpoint/iStock]