New Zealand’s enforcement of a law under which visitors can be fined up to $3,200 if they refuse to give access to their electronic devices has been termed “grave invasion of personal privacy”.
Under the Customs and Excise Act 2018, officials were given authorisation on October 1 to access personal information, including codes, passwords, encryption keys and any related information that enables access to an electronic device.
Authorities are allowed to copy, review and evaluate data from devices and can also remove or hold them for a time “reasonably” necessary to conduct the search.
According to local media reports, officials could previously stop people at the border and demand to examine their devices. However, travellers were not forced to hand over their passwords and personal information.
Following the law’s implementation, the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) expressed its “disappointment”, calling it a “grave invasion of personal privacy of both the person who owns the device, and the people they have communicated with”.
A spokesperson for New Zealand Customs said this was an absolutely necessary measure.
“The shift from paper-based systems to electronic systems has meant that the majority of prohibited material and documents are now stored electronically,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying by CNN.
The news has not been well received by travellers.
— Colin J Ely (@ColinJEly1) October 5, 2018
— Richard (@richiegogo) October 5, 2018
Great, we keep giving up out freedom in exchange of a false sense of security.
— El Zolra'ak (@UrmanioGeek) October 3, 2018
This is yet another gross invasion of privacy amid further degradation of our rights and civil liberties by increasingly authoritarian governments – in an age of mass surveillance, in the name of national security and counter-terrorism. #tech #NewZealand #AI #auspol https://t.co/YpB5U10h0M
— Tyler Manson ⏳🗽🌺 (@TylerManson_) October 3, 2018
“Any professional criminal could easily store the data on the internet, travel with a wiped phone, and restore it once they enter the country,” the CCL statement added.
“Any criminal who fails to do this would surely pay a $5k fine rather than reveal evidence relating to crimes that might involve jail time. Rather, it seems it’s going to catch normal law-abiding people who are obliged to give up their personal information or lose their smartphone.”
New Zealand is not the only country taking such measures. Canada executes such measures occasionally, and searches of mobile phones by US border agents increased from 5,000 in 2015 to 25,000 in 2016, according to reports by the Guardian.