Bay Area artist says constitutional rights violated after phone searched at SFO

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A Bay Area artist says he cannot believe how he was treated at SFO -- he says U.S. customs agents went through his phone and violated his constitutional rights.

The ACLU says this is a growing problem with more than 2,000 cellphones searched in February alone, including one belonging to a local professor and artist.

"It's a very chilling experience," said Aaron Gatch, artist.

RELATED: Bay Area artist says customs agents went through his phone at SFO

In February, U.S. Customs and Border protection pulled him aside at SFO. He had returned home from an art exhibition in Belgium. They asked the professor about his art, which is often about oppressive governments. He says they insisted on searching his phone. Gach refused to tell them his password and repeatedly asked what were his rights. Gach says the agents told them they could just take his phone.

"It was an unreasonable search, there was no probably cause, there was no warrant," said Gach.

The ACLU filed a complaint, saying the incident not only violated government policy, it was unconstitutional.

A customs and border protection spokesperson says they cannot comment on pending litigation.
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