WASHINGTON: Muslim travellers, coming in or go­ing out of the United Sta­tes, are often asked to hand over their cellphones and share their passwords with US immigration officials, the NBC News reported on Tuesday.

The US TV channel repor­ted that 23 of the 25 travellers it interviewed were Muslims and although all showed evidence to prove they were US citizens, they still had to submit their pho­nes for a thorough checking.

All 25 citizens NBC News interviewed said that Cust­oms and Border Prote­ction (CBP) officers at airports and border crossings dema­nded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them.

Those subjected to this search included businessmen, couples, senior citizens and families with young kids. Some were detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the US. None were on terror watch lists.

One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their US citizenship questioned.

Data provided to NBC News by the US Department of Homeland Security sho­w­ed that cellphone searches by bor­der agents had increased fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

The report predicted that “2017 will be a blockbuster year” for such searches as more than 5,000 devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.

“This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people,” said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, on NBC News.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2017