New Zealand fines travelers who won’t unlock secure devices

Refusal to comply could lead to prosecution and a fine of up to $4180. Image GettyMore

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".

Visitors to New Zealand can be fined $5000 for refusing to provide passwords to unlock electronic devices and allow customs officials to examine them under a new law that a civil liberties group on Thursday condemned as a grave invasion of privacy.

But a new twist has been added with the enactment of New Zealand's most recent customs law: compelled password production.

"The travelling public is unlikely to notice much difference at the border", the New Zealand Government said in a press release.

Travellers heading over to New Zealand can now be fined more than $4000 if they refuse to hand over their smartphone passwords upon arrival. This is like saying customs can demand your house keys and dig through your belongings simply because you traveled out of New Zealand and returned home.

Under the Customs and Excise Act 2018, which came into force this week, officials are able to demand travellers unlock any electronic device so it can be searched.

Thomas Beagle, Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties said: "Modern smartphones contain a large amount of highly sensitive private information including emails, letters, medical records, personal photos, and very personal photos".

As in many countries, customs officers in New Zealand were already able to seize mobile phones and other digital devices for forensic examination they believed contained evidence of criminality.

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According to the law, officers need to present a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing in order to request access to your device.

And he said the plan for agents to search the device but not the cloud doesn't make a lot of sense, security-wise.

"Any professional criminal could easily store their data on the internet, travel with a wiped phone, and restore it once they enter the country", he wrote.

While you can now be searched at the border into various countries around the world, New Zealand is the first to introduce fines.

Privacy rights campaigners in New Zealand have expressed anger at the new law.

USA citizens can be detained, and their devices confiscated for not giving customs agents access.

A device can only be confiscated if, after preliminary searching, border patrol officials have additional suspects. In May, a federal judge ruled that the case can proceed. "Foreign travelers can be denied access to the country if they refuse to comply".

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