New Zealand Airports Customs Officials Performing 'Digital Strip Searches' Of Travelers' Electronics

from the putting-the-'awful'-back-in-'lawful' dept

Despite DHS hints that foreign airports were falling down on the "security theater" job, it appears a few customs officials are more than happy to engage in local versions of "extreme vetting." New Zealand customs officials are way ahead of the DHS in this department, having turned airports into rights-free zones where nearly anything can happen... to travelers.

According to an investigative report by New Zealand's 1 news, airport customs officials routinely force up to two travelers each day to give up their electronic devices and passwords for searching. According to the customs agents, the program is designed to look for smugglers by performing a "digital strip search" on the phones and laptops of travelers. This does not require a court order, but the agents do claim to adhere to New Zealand's privacy act.

Yes, somehow the stripping of someone's electronic privacy still "adheres" to the privacy act. One would think "smuggling" would be routine criminal act, not worthy of "digital strip searches." One would also think some sort of reasonable suspicion would be needed to proceed with this, as compared to anti-terrorist activities which usually result in rights-violation blank checks being issued to customs authorities.

The data shows more than 1,300 people have been subjected to these suspicionless "strip searches" since 2015, with less than a third of those being New Zealand citizens. The majority of those searched are foreigners and it appears visitors to the country should somehow expect delays of up to five hours thanks to this supposedly random vetting process.

And there is no option to refuse this additional, highly-invasive search. As Techspot reports, travelers refusing to hand over their electronic devices can be subject to fines of $5,000. That makes it a very expensive trip, especially for foreigners. Extra delays, extra costs, zero privacy -- all in the name of keeping untaxed cigarettes out of NZ or whatever.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 7:02am

    ... in violation of the TOS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 17 Jul 2017 @ 12:00pm

      Re:

      Given a choice between committing a felony in the US (3-5 years in federal prison) due to the current DoJ interpretation of how TOS and CFAA interact, and a $5,000 fine in Australia, I'll take the fine.

      I'm Carcerophobic.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 7:18am

    At least the searches are properly random, right?
    That would, at least, be a step up from the profiling most US airport security staff engage in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 17 Jul 2017 @ 7:26am

    Traveller 1: I'm a lawyer. My laptop's files are protected by attorney client privilege.

    Customs officials: Not here they're not. Hand it over.

    Traveller 2: I'm here to negotiate a trade deal with the New Zealand government. I cannot hand over the details of our negotiating positions.

    Customs officials: You can and you will. Hand it over.

    Traveller 3: My device contains corporate secrets. I'm not authorized to hand them over to ANYONE.

    Customs officials: We're not just anyone. Hand it over.

    The US and other countries are demanding the right to search the cloud-based servers of multinationals anywhere in the world. It seems like standard practice will soon be to travel with an empty device, and your data on your own private cloud server.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ThaumaTechnician (profile), 17 Jul 2017 @ 7:45am

      Re:

      Perhaps one gambit is to claim that you have the secret recipe for Coke stored and encrypted on your laptop and warn the security apparatchik that the weight of Coke's legal team will come down hard on them and ruin them personally.

      /this might work in a movie...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 9:29am

        Re: Re:

        No wise company will be storing that shit on a traveling laptop with gen pop airlines to begin with, so most of these are non-sequitors or fringe cases that would most certainly get special treatment and scheduled well in advance, or just plain processed through "special" channels.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Paul, 17 Jul 2017 @ 10:28am

      Re:

      My Firm requires me to make all requests of this nature to call my corporate IT dept or Legal team.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 12:53pm

        Re: Re:

        Your firm will be covering THEIR asz not yours when the hammer comes down.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Paul, 17 Jul 2017 @ 2:00pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          My firms legal team will cover me if I follow company policy. The most Immigration can do is revoke my Visa or deny me access to the country in question. (And now charge my firm $5000 I guess). Any other solution results in far more potential damage as I may have access to customer data that the country of New Zealand does not have access to (with out a Court Order)

          Keep in mind people like me are the ones they will never allow stuff like this to go that far, They don't want strong legal teams pushing back because employees follow the legal teams advice. They want smaller players to give up and roll over.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 7:39am

    "the program is designed to look for smugglers"

    Smugglers of what?

    What can you possibly smuggle on your phone or laptop that you can't just download from the cloud?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 7:44am

      Re: "the program is designed to look for smugglers"

      I suspect in the UK that will soon be unpixelated pornography!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 17 Jul 2017 @ 8:01am

      Re: "the program is designed to look for smugglers"

      It might be an indication of how confident they are about automated interception and scanning of internet data in and out of the country.

      They more confident that are about that, the more they'll worry about the hand-carried device "hole" at the border.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 17 Jul 2017 @ 10:22am

    Note to the wise

    Mail your electronics to your destination in New Zealand and carry a burner phone for searching.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 10:35am

      Re: Note to the wise

      haha, you actually think they can't do this at customs too? Customs is literally designed from scratch for the sole purpose of investigating all contents shipped into or out of the country.

      The only thing that sending it by mail will do is make it even more inconvenient to you when they confiscate it, since you'll have to actually go to wherever they're holding it to assist/get your stuff back.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Whoever, 17 Jul 2017 @ 11:55am

        Re: Re: Note to the wise

        Customs is literally designed from scratch for the sole purpose of investigating all contents shipped into the country.

        FTFY

        Note: markdown doesn't seem to support strikethrough, so I can't highlight the deleted text, which originally read "or out of"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 17 Jul 2017 @ 10:45am

    They're going to have to run commercials to convince travellers not to download their data AFTER going through customs. Perhaps based on the "You wouldn't download a car" PSAs.

    You wouldn’t download your own data

    PRIVACY. IT’S A CRIME

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 11:07am

    What are these searches supposed to look for? If I unlock my Kindle, they're only going to find fanfics and ebooks I've purchased (but had DRM stripped). Oh wait...the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA...crap.
    Still legit question.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 17 Jul 2017 @ 11:45am

    Good ol' days

    I've seen the output of full body scanners at airports that show my whole body nude. I've heard of security officers wanting confiscate and decrypt devices.

    What happened to the good ol' days when I could just show up to the airport, show the security guards my penis, and board the plane without any incident or infringement on my rights?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 11:58am

    Okay then, tell me this Mr. Man In Black: how will you know I don't have a(nother) micro-SD card with all the data I don't want you to see concealed inside something innocuous that I carry, while you search my empty phone...?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 17 Jul 2017 @ 12:10pm

    Now everybody:

    And before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave and go home, to my Lord, and be free.

    No longer a song a majority would merely sing out of solidarity with suppressed minorities. They are coming for all of us now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Jul 2017 @ 12:53pm

    Message received loud and clear

    'If your electronics carry any sensitive data, whether personal or related to your job, do not travel to New Zealand.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 1:51pm

      Re: Message received loud and clear

      That or develop an interest in radio astronomy, and carry files of noise that came from the sky in which to hide your encrypted volume..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mr Big Content, 17 Jul 2017 @ 3:17pm

    This Could Never Happen In Teh USA

    Our freedoms are safe, not like in these foreign places. You know why? Because of the Second Amendment. The Government knows, if it ever tried to trample on any of our IMPORTANT rights, our guns would be out and trained on them like a ton of bricks.

    So don't sweat the small stuff. We can sleep safe at night, with that ultimate guarantor of our rights close at hand, under that pillow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 17 Jul 2017 @ 8:00pm

      Re: This Could Never Happen In Teh USA

      If it got to that, your small arms would stand no chance against helicopters and armoured vehicles. The US government has spent the last 15 years learning how to fight a well armed insurgency in the middle east.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2017 @ 10:42pm

        Re: Re: This Could Never Happen In Teh USA

        Mr Big Content is a regular satire, Roger. :)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Roger Strong (profile), 18 Jul 2017 @ 7:21am

          Re: Re: Re: This Could Never Happen In Teh USA

          Thanks; it's so hard to tell these days. I thought that Ammon Bundy's Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation was "improv."

          I'm still hoping that Donald Trump will be revealed to be a still-alive Andy Kaufman.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      SisterMaryGearchange (profile), 18 Jul 2017 @ 8:20pm

      Re: This Could Never Happen In Teh USA

      Is that Performance Art?


      Sadly, I can't tell these days.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Châu, 18 Jul 2017 @ 1:24am

    Refuse pay fine

    If refuse and not have 5000$NZ then people get extended visa for tour of NZ prison for how long?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2017 @ 6:07am

    All this to catch whistleblowers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    SisterMaryGearchange (profile), 18 Jul 2017 @ 8:25pm

    To be fair, they are amending the law (should be done in ~6 months) so that Customs will have to show probable cause before they can insist on a search. There won't be any right of appeal to their claim of PC however.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dr evil, 19 Jul 2017 @ 5:27am

    or just in case

    I routinely carry an external hard drive that has multiple partitions with tens of thousands of individually encrypted files and two million images with random names and odd formats. Sadly, no one has checked it yet. Now the teeny, tiny memory card, that is well hidden ........ and a dummy in the phone.. good times

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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