Benn: Gov’t to get statement from PS over US seizure of phone
Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn on Monday said Mae Thomas will remain as his Ministry’s Permanent Secretary even as the authorities here try to determine why her phone was confiscated by Customs and Border Patrol in United States while she was en-route to China.
Mr Benn, speaking with reporters, clarified that his Permanent Secretary was on a business trip.
“It is in the interest of the Ministry for the visit,” Benn told the media on Monday.
The Permanent Secretary arrived in Guyana last weekend but is not in office.
Minister Benn on Monday announced that in her “absence” Simone Simon is currently acting in her capacity.
“We have today Miss Simone Simon standing in place of the Permanent Secretary,” Benn said without disclosing whether Thomas was asked to proceed on leave.
According to Benn, the government will be obtaining a statement from Thomas about the incident after which they will engage the authorities on the “happenstance”.
But he said replacing Thomas is not under consideration.
“There is no question about that. I am surprise if that question would be raised,” Benn told members of the media at the sidelines of an event on Monday.
Thomas was last week en-route to China when her mobile phone was taken by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Miami International Airport.
She was allowed to continue onwards to China but without her phone, a move that left Guyanese authorities puzzled since the phone likely contains sensitive information related to national security and foreign relations.
Benn confirmed on Monday that Thomas departed the country after obtaining his permission.
In a response to query from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the incident involving Thomas, the United States embassy in Georgetown on Friday said there was no specific information to share.
In the response, seen by the News Room, which came from the Deputy Chief of Mission, Adrienne Galanek; it outlined that travellers, including citizens of the United States, are subject to such inspections.
Galanek, in her response, said that once CBP officers at a port of entry need more information to determine a person’s admissibility into the U.S., that person may be directed to an interview area known as secondary inspection.
“Anyone, including U.S. citizens, may be subject to secondary inspection if the CBP officer has reservations about admitting him or her…It allows CBP officers to conduct additional research to verify information without delaying other travelers,” the US Embassy told the Foreign Ministry here.
During a secondary inspection, the CBP officer may ask detailed questions about travel plans and immigration history. Persons may be asked to produce additional proof of identification and detailed information about the purpose of their visit to the U.S.
To this end, Galanek reminded in the letter that both the person and their belongings may be subject to a thorough search. Such inspections may include a search of all electronic information stored on your laptop, cell phone or other electronic device.