Freelance photojournalist David Degner was flagged for secondary screening multiple times while flying between Cairo, Egypt, and the United States.
Degner, a U.S. citizen who was working out of Cairo, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he was pulled aside after disembarking in Boston, Massachusetts, on Oct. 25, 2017. He said he sent out a Facebook notification saying that he was being stopped and interviewed and then signed out of all of his social media profiles.
Degner told CPJ that he acted to prevent another search of his phone and social media profiles like had occurred during a December 2016 screening. At that stop, Customs and Border Protection had pulled Degner aside for secondary screening at preclearance in Toronto, Canada on a trip from Cairo to the United States.
Degner said that during the December stop, he waited for half an hour before he was shown to an interview room where an officer was already seated. The officer asked him to unlock and hand over his phone.
At first, Degner refused, asking if the officer had the right to search his phone. Degner said that the officer handed him a pre-printed sheet saying that they have the right to examine anything that is coming into the United States. He asked what would happen if he refused and the officer told him that they would hold onto the phone until CBP could unlock it themselves, implying that it would be confiscated for weeks or months.
“I’m used to these types of security procedures from Egypt,” Degner told CPJ. He requested that the officer remain in the room while searching the phone—which he did—which took 10-15 minutes.
Degner said that when he asked why his phone was being searched anyway, the officer responded, “Just be glad I’m not asking to search your laptop and everything else, too.”
When he was flagged a second time less than a year later in Boston, Degner sent the Facebook notification and signed out of his profiles. Officers did not ask him to unlock his phone during the second stop, however.
Degner told CPJ that on both occasions he asked the officers why he had been selected for secondary screening, and on both occasions they said they couldn’t tell him why.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker includes incidents only from 2017 forward.