Isma’il Kushkush is a Virginia-based freelance journalist. He is a U.S. citizen. Since January 2016, he has been subjected to three invasive, warrantless searches at different border crossings.
In January 2016, Mr. Kushkush traveled to New York City from Sweden, where he had been conducting research for his masters thesis on refugees for Columbia Journalism School. He had a locked laptop computer and two unlocked phones with him. Upon his arrival at JFK International Airport in New York, he was taken to a secondary inspection area, where Customs and Border Protection officers questioned him and searched his belongings. The CBP officers took Mr. Kushkush’s laptop and two phones out of his sight for approximately 20 minutes. After about three hours, he was allowed to leave.
One year later, in January 2017, Mr. Kushkush traveled to Washington, D.C. from Israel, where he had completed an internship with the Associated Press through an award from the Overseas Press Club Foundation. He carried a number of devices he uses mainly for his work. Upon landing at Dulles International Airport, CBP officers took Mr. Kushkush to a secondary inspection area, where they questioned him and searched his notebooks. They also asked Mr. Kushkush for his social media identifiers and his email address.
A CBP officer demanded to see Mr. Kushkush’s phone and told him to unlock it. Because he had no meaningful choice, he complied. The officer searched through the phone’s contents in front of him. CBP officers also took Mr. Kushkush’s laptop, voice recorder, camera, flash drives, and notebooks into another room. They allowed him to leave after having spent about 90 minutes in the secondary inspection area.
In July 2017, Mr. Kushkush attended a language program at Middlebury College in Vermont. During the program, he traveled with a group of fellow students to Montreal. When he reentered the U.S. at Highgate Springs, Vermont, he was taken to a secondary inspection area. After waiting for an hour, a CBP officer instructed him to unlock his phone, threatening to seize it if Mr. Kushkush didn’t comply. Mr. Kushkush unlocked the phone, stating that he was doing so against his will. The officer wrote down the password and took the phone out of Mr. Kushkush’s sight for about an hour. After three hours, he was directed to a separate area, where he was questioned about his work as a journalist. After having spent a total of three and a half hours in the inspection area, he was released.