Air passengers arriving in New Zealand could face fines of $5000 if they refuse to hand over passwords and pins to phones.
This “digital strip search” is thought to be the first to be imposed by any country and came into effect on Monday with the 2018 Customs and Excise Act.
Travellers who fail to hand over passwords could be fined, prosecuted and have their device confiscated.
While the act gives officials new powers to force travellers to hand over passwords, there must be a reasonable suspicion against either the device or the carrier before a warrant can be given.
“Customs must now satisfy specific legal thresholds before they can search the digital content of an electronic device when processing passengers or crew,” reads the updated Act.
Terry Brown of New Zealand Customs said “We’re not aware of any other country that has legislated for the potential of a penalty to be applied if people do not divulge their passwords.”
Speaking in an interview with TVNZ, Brown said, “I personally have an e-device and it maintains all my records – banking data, et cetera, et cetera – so we understand the importance and significance of it.”
Council for Civil Liberties issued a statement about their concerns over the new powers of search, calling it a “grave invasion of privacy.”
“Modern smartphones contain a large amount of highly sensitive private information including emails, letters, medical records, personal photos, and very personal photos,” said Thomas Beagle, spokesperson for the CCL.
“The reality of this law is that it gives Customs the power to take and force the unlock of peoples smartphones without justification or appeal,” he said.
It’s already turning off some prospective visitors to the country.
Twitter is filling up with angry messages from would be travellers.
Why should I travel there? There are over 190 countries to go to and they won’t need to check my cellphone. Or I could just travel around US states.
Well won’t be going to New Zealand now.
Slippery slope, New Zealand!
“Well won’t be going to New Zealand now,” wrote twitter user Dewayne Smith.
“Why should I travel there?” asked Latim Latim, “There are over 190 countries to go to and they won’t need to check my cellphone.”
In other amendments to the Act Customs officers were given new powers to “prohibit the use of electronic communication devices in areas where people are arriving or departing New Zealand.”
Last year, Customs searched 540 devices coming into New Zealand Airports.
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