Apple employee accuses US customs agents of detaining him at airport

An Apple employee accused Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents of detaining him upon arriving at San Francisco International Airport after he refused to unlock his employer-owned laptop and phone.

Andreas Gal said in a Medium post published on Tuesday that after arriving in December from a business trip to Europe, he was interrogated by three armed agents with bulletproof vests who asked “detailed questions” about his previous work with Mozilla and demanded he unlock his laptop and phone.

Gal, whose account was profiled in a story by The Washington Post on Wednesday, said he refused to do so because the gadgets were the property of Apple and contained proprietary information.  

ADVERTISEMENT

Gal added he requested to speak to a lawyer or to his employer.

“This request seemed to aggravate the customs officers,” Gal wrote in the Medium post. “They informed me that I had no right to speak to an attorney at the border despite being a U.S. citizen, and threatened me that failure to immediately comply with their demand is a violation of federal criminal code 18 USC 111.”

Gal wrote that after he declined to answer any further questions and continued to request to speak to an attorney, he was eventually allowed to leave with his devices.

But he added the CBP agents kept his Global Entry Card, which gave him fast-track travel privileges, as "a punishment for not complying with their demands."

Gal said that he has filed "a civil rights complaint with the help of the ACLU against CBP for unlawfully detaining me and violating my constitutional rights." 

The filing from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California identifies Gal as an employee of Apple.

A CBP official told The Hill that while the agency does not comment on pending litigation, "all travelers arriving to the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection."

"This inspection may include electronic devices such as computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music and other media players and any other electronic or digital devices," the official said.

Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Hill.

The ACLU filing calls for an investigation into whether CBP’s actions violated Gal's First and Fourth amendment rights as well as a broader review of the agency’s border search policies.