Travellers refusing digital search now face $5000 Customs fine in NZ

10:40 am on 1 October 2018

Previously, Customs could stop anyone at the border and demand to see their electronic devices. However, the law did not specify that people had to also provide a password.

The updated law makes clear that travellers must provide access – whether that be a password, pin-code or fingerprint – but officials would need to have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

“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,” Customs spokesperson Terry Brown said.

If people refused to comply, they could be fined up to $5000 and their device would be seized and forensically searched.

Mr Brown said the law struck the “delicate balance” between a person’s right to privacy and Customs’ law enforcement responsibilities.

“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 spokesperson Thomas Beagle said the law was an unjustified invasion of privacy.

“Nowadays we’ve got everything on our phones; we’ve got all our personal life, all our doctors’ records, our emails, absolutely everything on it, and customs can take that and keep it.”

The new requirement for reasonable suspicion did not rein in the law at all, Mr Beagle said.

“They don’t have to tell you what the cause of that suspicion is, there’s no way to challenge it.”

Customs Minister Kris Faafoi said the power to search electronic devices was necessary.

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