Stockton, California Mayor Anthony R. Silva attended a recent mayor's conference in China, but his return trip took a bit longer than usual. At the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) this week, agents with the Department of Homeland Security detained Silva and confiscated his personal cell phone among other electronics. According to comments from the mayor, that may not even be the most alarming part.
“Unfortunately, they were not willing or able to produce a search
warrant or any court documents suggesting they had a legal right to take
my property," Silva told SFGate. "In addition, they were persistent about requiring my passwords for all devices.”
The mayor's attorney, Mark Reichel, told SFGate that Silva was not
allowed to leave the airport without forfeiting his passwords. Reichel
was not present for Silva's interaction with the DHS agents, either. The
mayor was told he had “no right for a lawyer to be present” and that
being a US citizen did not “entitle me to rights that I probably
thought,” according to the paper.
As of Friday, Silva had not yet received his property from the SFO
detention. SFGate reports Reichel contacted the US Attorney’s Office in
Sacramento, but they would not comment on whether they still had the
mayor's possessions. The paper also reached out to a spokesperson at US
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but that office also refused
comment. (Ars has reached out to the mayor's office for any new
information, and we'll update this story accordingly if we hear back.)
Authorities demanding access to password-protected devices has become
a hot-button issue across the country, highlighted in particular by the
federal government's ongoing battle with Silicon Valley
over the lack of crypto backdoors in modern smartphones. At the end of
last month, one US District Judge in Pennsylvania ruled that forcing
suspects to surrender their passwords was unconstitutional on Fifth Amendment grounds.
Evidently, Silva was well aware of the situation and only had his
concerns heightened by first-hand experience. Talking to SFGate, he
briefly compared the government battle on privacy to notorious
“I think the American people should be extremely concerned about
their personal rights and privacy,” Silva told the paper. “As I was
being searched at the airport, there was a Latino couple to my left, and
an Asian couple to my right also being aggressively searched. I briefly
had to remind myself that this was not North Korea or Nazi Germany.
This is the land of the Free.”