New Zealand customs agents can now legally demand access to travelers’ electronic devices. Visitors who refuse to hand over access to their devices can now face prosecution and a fine of up to NZ$5,000 (almost $3,200). Here’s everything you need to know about the changes to the NZ Customs law.
New Zealand Customs – The Story
The Customs and Excise Act 2018, which came into force on October 1st, gives New Zealand Customs Officials the right to demand access to any electronic device. The law does state that the officials need to have “reasonable cause” to conduct these searches. However, the definition of “reasonable” is up to the individual customs official. Anyone that refuses to hand over their password will have to pay almost $3,200 in fines. To add to this, non-US citizens may be also be refused access to the country.
Customs also has the right to copy and review any data on these devices. They can also confiscate the devices to conduct a more in-depth search if they deem it necessary. Here’s what it says in the Act itself:
“The device may be accessed, searched, reviewed, or evaluated either manually or by using a technology aid that has completed a privacy impact assessment in consultation with the Privacy Commissioner”…”If a person is convicted of an offence under subsection (8), a court may order the device to be condemned to the Crown, destroyed, or returned subject to any conditions that the court thinks fit.”
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards seem pleased with these developments. Others like Thomas Beagle, the Chairman of the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) voiced their concern. Mr. Edwards responded with,
“Allowing Customs to be able to demand the right to examine and capture all this information is a grave invasion of personal privacy of both the person who owns the device and the people they have communicated with. The reality of this law is that it gives Customs the power to take and force the unlock of peoples smartphones without justification or appeal.”
What this Means for Privacy
According to the CCL, it is very easy for someone to hide their data from New Zealand Customs. The law clearly states that the Customs Officials only have the right to go through data on the device. In other words, any information stored outside the device is off-limits. The CCL’s statement made an interesting point on the validity of a such a law, stating:
“Just what sort of information do they expect to find that justifies this power? Anyone engaged in serious smuggling would surely be smart enough to leave their documents in the cloud and access them over the internet once they arrive.”
This is very true. Anyone with something to hide can easily backup their devices, wipe them clean, and pass through customs without a care. Other travelers might not be so lucky. Phones and laptops contain a lot of personal information. The idea of handing them over to a Customs Official, whether you want to or not, will surely turn-off many tourists from visiting New Zealand. In case you’re planning on making the long trip to Kiwiland, we suggest you take a look at our list of best VPNs for New Zealand first.