New Zealand has issued new rules that require travelers to hand over passwords for their digital devices at security. The New Zealand Customs Service said in a released statement that the new Customs and Excise Act of 2018 would boost border compliance and support the national economy. Border officials have been quoted in reports as saying that the new policy is an “appropriate remedy” for security concerns.
Customs officials can now demand travelers provide passwords, or other device-unlocking information like fingerprints, if the traveler is suspected of possessing child pornography or being involved in drug or financial crimes. Border officials will be permitted to search the content saved to travelers’ cellphones, computers, and other digital devices.
If travelers refuse to hand over their passwords, officers could seize their devices. The law states that seized devices may be subjected to a full examination, saying “the device or data may be copied, reviewed, or evaluated (including by means of previewing, cloning, or other forensic methods.” Travelers who refuse could also be fined up to $5,000 in New Zealand (about US$3,300).
There are limits built into the new law. The details specify that officials need to have “reasonable cause to suspect wrongdoing” before conducting a digital search. In addition, the traveler’s web history and data stored on the cloud remain off-limits.
With the new rules, New Zealand becomes the first country in the world to threaten travelers with prosecution and fines if they refuse to hand over the passwords to their digital devices. Before the new rules were issued, agents could not compel travelers to hand over their passwords, but could seize suspicious devices for forensic examination.
Privacy advocates have expressed alarm at the new policy being implemented. Thomas Beagle, a spokesman for the Council for Civil Liberties, said during an interview that the lack of a requirement for officials to specify the cause renders the requirement of reasonable cause pointless. The lack means there are no clear grounds for travelers to challenge the forced searches.