Travellers could be forced to hand over their mobile phone and laptop passwords to customs officers for a ‘digital strip search’ under a new New Zealand law.
Anyone who refuses to divulge the information faces a $5000 fine.
Customs was previously allowed to stop anyone and ask to see their digital devices but weren’t allowed to ask for passwords.
Civil rights advocates are outraged at the change which they said was a gross invasion of privacy and did little to keep boarders safe.
The updated Customs and Excise Act 2018 law, which came into effect on Monday, sets out new guidelines for officers who conduct ‘digital strip-searches’.
The updated law means customs can now ask travellers to provide their personal digital data, such as personal passwords, pin codes and fingerprints.
Customs spokesperson Terry Brown told Radio NZ while it may seem invasive, the new law provide a ‘delicate balance’ between someones’s rights and the law.
‘It is a file-by-file [search] on your phone. We’re not going into ‘the cloud’. We’ll examine your phone while it’s on flight mode,’ Mr Brown said.
Mr Brown said officers would only ask someone to provide their personal passwords if they believe they have a reason to suspect wrongdoing.
Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Thomas Beagle said the law was an unjustified invasion of privacy because customs don’t have to provide a reason for the search.
‘They don’t have to tell you what the cause of that suspicion is, there’s no way to challenge it,’ Mr Beagle said.
Mr Beagle said any ‘serious criminal’ wouldn’t store incriminating information on their digital devices – they would rather store it online, where customs can’t access.
Despite the backlash, Customs Minister Kris Faafoi said the updated legislation was necessary to keep New Zealand borders safe.
‘A lot of the organised crime groups are becoming a lot more sophisticated in the ways they’re trying to get things across the border,’ Minister Faafoi said.
He said searching smartphones and laptops was a useful method for prosecution.
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards was involved in the drafting process and he told the publication he was ‘pretty comfortable’ with how the new law stands.
Mr Edwards said the law provides a ‘good balance’ between ensuring New Zealand borders were safe and ‘unreasonable’ digital strip-searches.