New Zealand to order tourists to hand over phone password at border

'A grave invasion of personal privacy,' campaigner says 

Zamira Rahim
Thursday 04 October 2018 08:16
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New Zealand barrister Katie Hogan explains new 'digital strip search' law for travellers' electronic devices

Privacy rights campaigners have denounced a new law in New Zealand under which will allow border officials to demand that tourists unlock any electronic devices, including mobile phones, so that they can be searched.

Under the Customs and Excise Act 2018, which came into force this week, visitors who refuse to hand over their device passwords could face prosecution and a fine of up to NZ$5,000 (£2,500).

The law also allows border officials to retain and confiscate devices if tourists resist a search.

New Zealand is the first country to introduce a fine for travellers who refuse to hand over their device passwords, although multiple nations permit border officials to conduct similar searches.

Foreign nationals who travel to the US and refuse access to their phones can be denied entry to the country if deemed non cooperative.

Civil liberties groups have reacted to the new law with dismay.

"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, chairman of the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties (CCL).

"Allowing Customs to be able to demand the right to examine and capture all this information is a grave invasion of personal privacy of both the person who owns the device and the people they have communicated with. 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 - and this is exactly what Customs has always wanted".

The act requires that Customs officials must have "reasonable cause" to conduct a search of devices but the CCL said in a statement that border staff "do not have to prove this before confiscating your device, nor is there a way to meaningfully protest or appeal at the time of confiscation."

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