Travellers around the world have promised to boycott New Zealand after a controversial new airport rule was revealed where passengers who refuse to give their digital device passwords to authorities will be fined.
The law, which comes under New Zealand’s Customs and Excise Act 2018, will be in motion starting from this week, and will give customs officials the right to demand private information such as passwords, PINs and encryption keys to unlock devices and conduct “digital strip searches.”
Those who fail to issue their private passwords will be fined up to $NZ5000 ($A4580) and could face the threat of prosecution and the confiscation of their device.
In the past, customs officials were able to stop travellers at the border to search their devices, but the law didn’t force those coming into the country to provide their passwords.
“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 New Zealand customs spokesman Terry Brown.
Though despite the invasion of privacy, customs will not have access to the cloud.
“It is a file-by-file (search) on your phone. We’re not going into ‘the Cloud’,” Mr Brown told NZTV.
“We’ll examine your phone while it’s on flight mode.”
For officials to demand private information, they must have a “reasonable cause to suspect” the owner or their device. If the suspicions are deemed fair, then the data on the device may be copied and reviewed.
New Zealand border officials undertook the task of conducting a preliminary search on 537 devices last year.
“The shift from paper-based systems to electronic systems has meant that the majority of prohibited material and documents are now stored electronically,” a New Zealand Customs spokeswoman said.
But travellers and civil liberties advocates have not taken well to the new law, as the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties stated it was a “grave invasion of personal privacy for both the person who owns the device and the people they have communicated with.”
“Modern smartphones contain a large amount of highly sensitive private information including emails, letters, medical records, personal photos, and very personal photos,” said chairman Thomas Beagle in a statement.
“The reality of this law is that it gives Customs the power to take and force the unlock of people’s smartphones without justification or appeal – and this is exactly what Customs has always wanted.”
Social media users were also outraged as many posted about how they refuse to go to New Zealand while the law is in place.
“Wow, taking New Zealand from my bucket list,” tweeted one person.
“What about those who have confidential information on their devices? New Zealand is trash,” another wrote.
One person said: “So now, you and I need to hand over all our data, while professional or suitably motivated wrongdoers can just upload all stuff to the Cloud and buy a new phone after crossing the border. Am I the only one seeing the police state in this? Not travelling to NZ soon.”
But while there were many frustrated people, there were also those who saw the reasoning behind the tough new law.
“[It’s] people being detained/searched on suspicious activity. It’s not the average traveller,” tweeted one user.
“If they then refuse to give the PIN to a device which is believed to have helped in dodgy behaviour they will be fined. They still are able to say no, they just pay the fine.”
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