Visitors to New Zealand could face an unwelcome choice beginning this week: relinquish your cell phone password, or pay a $3,000 fine.
Travelers who refuse to provide the pass codes to their digital devices or unlock them with biometric data such as fingerprints will face fines of up to NZ$5,000 (US$3,284) under New Zealand’s new Customs and Excise Act of 2018, which came into effect Monday, the New York Times reports.
The law, which applies to both foreign visitors and New Zealand citizens, authorizes officials to demand “codes, passwords, and encryption keys” or other information required to access an electronic device.
Border officials are now empowered to conduct a “full” digital search, in which devices may be “removed or detained” and data contained on them “copied, reviewed, or evaluated” including by “cloning.”
Officials must have a “reasonable cause to suspect” a device or its carrier to warrant a full digital search. However, rights advocates have already raised alarms that the new law condones intrusions of privacy.
“Nowadays we’ve got everything on our phones; we’ve got all our personal life, all our doctors’ records, our emails, absolutely everything,” Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Thomas Beagle told Radio New Zealand. “Customs can take that and keep it.”
New Zealand customs officials already had the legal power to seize and search cell phones and other digital devices, as do authorities in other countries, including the U.S. But New Zealand border officials said their law is the first to impose a penalty for refusing to comply, the Times reports.
In a news release, Customs Department spokesperson Terry Brown said the new regulations would help improve border compliance, while assuring would-be tourists that “the traveling public is unlikely to notice much difference.”
Digital “strip searches,” as full digital inspections have become known, are becoming increasingly common. In the U.S., border agents conducted 25,000 such searches in 2016, up from just 5,000 in 2015, according to an analysis by the Guardian.
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