(EDGE) A man from Vancouver, Canada says he was blocked from entering the U.S. in October, after a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol official demanded he unlock his phone and read his profile on the gay hookup app Scruff, according to Canada's Daily Xtra.
The officer suspected the man, named André (he didn't want to reveal his full identity out of fear of retaliation from U.S. Customs), was a sex worker because he found explicit messages. The officer questioned one message that said André was "looking for loads." The officer thought the phrase meant he was soliciting sex for money.
André, a set decorator, called the incident "humiliating" and said he was visiting the U.S. to see his boyfriend, who is was working in New Orleans at the time.
André said when he was going through Customs at a Vancouver airport he was selected for a secondary inspection, where an officer took his phone, computer and other belongings. The officer allegedly demanded André unlock his devices.
"I didn't know what to do. I was scared, so I gave them the password and then I sat there for at least an hour or two. I missed my flight," André told the Daily Xtra. "He came back and just started grilling me. 'Is this your email?' and it was an email attached to a Craigslist account for sex ads. He asked me, 'Is this your account on Scruff? Is this you on BBRT?' I was like, 'Yes, this is me.'"
BBRT is a bare-backing hookup site.
The officer asked André about what he meant by "looking for loads." André said he tried to explain, but the officer continued to question him.
"I could tell just by his nature that he had no intentions of letting me through. They were just going to keep asking me questions looking for something," he told the newspaper. "So I asked for the interrogation to stop. I asked if I go back to Canada am I barred for life? He said no, so I accepted that offer."
André attempted to fly to New Orleans again in November and this time brought paperwork to prove he wasn't a sex worker. This included letters from his employer, pay stubs, bank statements and more. He said when he went through secondary inspection at the Vancouver airport, officials didn't need to ask him for passwords - they were allegedly already saved on their system.
André told Daily Xtra he deleted hookup apps from his phone and cleared his browser history and messages.
"They went through my computer. They were looking through Word documents," he told the newspaper. "I had nude photos of myself on my phone, and they were questioning who this person was. It was really humiliating and embarrassing."
He went on to say: "They said, 'Next time you come through, don't have a cleared phone,' and that was it. I wasn't let through. He said I'm a suspected escort. You can't really argue with them because you're trapped," he says.
André said he's lost $1,200 on non-refundable tickets and hotels because of the incidents.
Unfortunately, André's situation is apparently all too common for non-Americans looking to enter the U.S.
"Our mobile devices contain every detail of our lives," Esha Bhandari, staff attorney for the speech privacy and technology project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Daily Xtra. "Financial information, health information, personal relationship information. Some people that travel for business have very sensitive business information, trade secret information."
"Thus far, CBP has asserted a very broad authority to search visitors to the United States," she added. "There aren't a lot of cases testing the limits of that, especially in this new digital context."