Travelers To New Zealand Now Face $3,000 Fines If They Don't Give Their Device Passwords To Customs Agents
from the Eye-of-Sauron-experience dept
New Zealand’s “digital strip searches” of travelers’ electronic devices are now backed by law. When we covered this last year, customs officials were already seizing devices and performing invasive searches. But a new twist has been added with the enactment of New Zealand’s most recent customs law: compelled password production.
Travelers entering New Zealand who refuse to disclose passwords for their digital devices during forced searches could face prosecution and fines of more than $3,000, a move that border officials said Tuesday made the country the first to impose such penalties.
“We’re not aware of any other country that has legislated for the potential of a penalty to be applied if people do not divulge their passwords,” said Terry Brown, a New Zealand Customs spokesman. Border officials, he said, believe the new fine is an “appropriate remedy” aimed at balancing individuals’ privacy and national security.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition in the spokesman’s comments, suggesting mandatory password divulgement — something no other free world country is doing — is striking the right balance between privacy and national security.
The law applies to incoming visitors and returning citizens. The fine kicks in when password demands are refused, which also likely means the seizure of locked devices indefinitely. Supposedly, unlocked devices are searched for local files only — with phones put into airplane mode — but that’s still an incredibly invasive search predicated on nothing more than someone’s arrival in New Zealand.
Government officials are justifying the compelled password production with bad examples and terrible analogies. The so-called “Privacy Commissioner” tried to equate cellphones and other digital devices potentially containing thousands of personal files and communications with something containing the few belongings someone takes with them while traveling. (via Boing Boing)
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards had some influence over the drafting of the legislation and said he was “pretty comfortable” with where the law stood.
“There’s a good balance between ensuring that our borders are protected … and [that people] are not subject to unreasonable search of their devices.”
“You know when you come into the country that you can be asked to open your suitcase and that a Customs officer can look at everything in there.”
Socks, underwear… 700 personal photos, a few thousand personal communications… yeah, it’s all pretty much the same thing. 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.
The inadvertent hilarity comes from the Customs Minister, who is probably even less concerned about personal privacy than the Privacy Commissioner is.
Customs Minister Kris Faafoi said the power to search electronic devices was necessary.
“A lot of the organised crime groups are becoming a lot more sophisticated in the ways they’re trying to get things across the border.
“And if we do think they’re up to that kind of business, then getting intelligence from smartphones and computers can be useful for a prosecution.”
There are plenty of ways to get digital “things” across the border without carrying them on your person in some sort of electronic “suitcase” you know customs officials are going to take from you as soon as you enter the country. This may help catch some dumb criminals, but it’s not going to have much of an effect on the “sophisticated” organized crime groups.
What will happen is lots of people not connected to any criminal enterprise will have their devices seized and searched just because. The new fine will discourage visitors from refusing Customs’ advances, allowing officials to paw through their digital goods just like they do their clothing. And all the government can offer in response is that the ends justifies the means.