A recent case filed in federal court, in which an American woman had her iPhone seized and cracked by Customs and Border Protection in a New Jersey airport puts a whole new spin on the things we now need to worry about when leaving the country. It appears that now everyone's phones, despite country of origin or cause, are subject to nonconsensual seizure and search -- even if we refuse to give up our passwords.
If you're not caught up on the story, news hit this week that a Staten Island mom coming home from a February trip with her 9-year-old daughter from Switzerland had her iPhone snatched, kept for months and accessed for no given reason. Apple did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
Rejhane Lazoja landed in Newark on her way home to Staten Island, New York, and found herself pulled into a secondary screening room by two CPB agents. They asked for her electronic devices, told her she didn't need a lawyer and proceeded to demand she unlock her phone.
According to the motion filed by her attorneys in a New Jersey federal court on Wednesday, the male agent asked her to unlock her iPhone but would not provide a reason. She declined, telling them there were communications with her attorney on her phone, as well as photos of her without a headscarf. The latter makes their continued demands even more creepy and violating for a Muslim woman.
The female CBP officer took her out of the windowless interrogation room and a second male officer asked Lazoja to unlock the phone. Lazoja said no again, and the female officer pressed, saying she understood the sensitivity of the personal photos — that without her hijab, Lazoja is undressed — but the female officer then also asked her to unlock the phone anyway. Despite their B-list "good cop, bad cop" act, Lazoja still said no.
So they searched all her physical belongings, questioned her some more, then took her phone and SIM card, "indicating the iPhone and SIM Card were 'Sent to DHS Lab'" said the filing. What happened afterward, according to the federal lawsuit, was DHS cracking and copying her iPhone's contents at a separate location, keeping it for four months and not saying a damn thing about what they've done with her photos, data and all the other information they got from her phone.