Fork Over Passwords or Pay the Price

Fork Over Passwords or Pay the Price, New Zealand Tells Travelers

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As of this week, travelers who fail to unlock their devices risk prosecution and potential fines of 5,000 New Zealand dollars, about $3,295.

The law applies to both foreign visitors and returning New Zealand citizens.

Mr. Brown, the customs spokesman, said that once a password was supplied, “preliminary searches” would be carried out with a traveler’s phone or computer set to flight mode, and officers would explore only files saved to the device, not website histories or any information uploaded to cloud-based storage.

A device could be confiscated for further examination only if the preliminary search led officials to believe that was warranted, although Mr. Brown admitted that failure to provide a password could be grounds for seizure.

The move drew criticism from civil liberties advocates, who said digital devices contain far more private information about a person than luggage does and should therefore be subject to greater protection from searches.

Katina Michael, a professor at the University of Wollongong in Australia who specializes in surveillance issues, said most countries’ laws allowed officials to confiscate devices, often for a period of weeks, if passwords were not provided or illegal activity was suspected. But she said the new fines in New Zealand added a “scare factor” to pressure people, who often do not know their rights when entering a new country, to hand over their codes.
But a spokesman for New Zealand’s Council for Civil Liberties, Thomas Beagle, told Radio New Zealand that it was not clear what constituted “reasonable suspicion” and that there was no way for travelers to challenge a forced search of their devices.

In 2017, New Zealand border officials conducted 537 preliminary searches of devices, and customs officials said they did not expect that number to increase under the new law.

In the United States, forced searches of devices at the border have increased in recent years and have been subject to lawsuits, in which civil liberties activists claim the examinations are invasive and unlawful.

Professor Michael said there had also been an increase in digital searches and device confiscations at the Australian border.